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Linux Business Software

Running a Business on Open Source Software? 504

Graabein asks: "I'm part of an effort to startup a VoIP provider. We've decided to use Open Source Software wherever possible. Production is not a problem, we can handle the VoIP network itself, POTS termination, web sites, email systems, all the usual stuff. The business side of things is another matter entirely. We need to be able to handle Customer Relationship data, manage subscriptions, handle invoicing and accounts, have a web shop of sorts, online billing, credit card transactions, and more. Whatever system we use has to be able to handle national standards for accounting, or at least be possible to modify to do so. We've looked at Compiere, but our business types are not impressed. Neither am I, for that matter. Requiring an Oracle license is one thing (database independence is 'in development', but it has been for a long time, with no discernable progress), not working properly with Mozilla is another (you need IE to use it fully in HTML mode). What other options are there?"

"Our business types are full of suggestions for supposedly excellent and well suited systems, however they all have in common that they require Windows on the client. If we choose one of those systems our OSS policy is pretty much moot and OSS has been relegated to (some) servers in the computer room and that's about it. I don't mind running these business functions on a Windows server if that is the best system for the job, but having to run Windows on every client in order to access the data is simply not acceptable.

We want Linux and OpenOffice on every desktop. We want to be able to access customer data from a variety of clients, even including Windows. The same goes for Accounting data, HR data, QA data, you name it. Do we have to write our own system from scratch? I'm not sure that is very realistic."

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Running a Business on Open Source Software?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:19PM (#8197361)
  • Some things to try (Score:5, Informative)

    by ptaff ( 165113 ) * on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:21PM (#8197378) Homepage
    You might want to peek at OpenGroupware []. My colleagues and I have skimmed though what was available and it seems to be the most impressive for at least the customer management side. Though the look of the web interface will not amaze your artist friends, it seems to work well. You can interoperate with Evolution, Mozilla Calendar and some other programs - even Outlook should you want to buy the driver.

    I'd strongly suggest not to be impressed by eGroupWare []'s feature list and cute themes (I know WE've been fooled). Seems like these guys, though talented, are not really working towards stabilizing the tree, so you see frightening changelogs - like code rewrites between 1.0RC2 and 1.0RC3. They forked from phpGroupWare [] lately but I can't tell if it's a more serious project.

    One of my friends is completely sold to the Horde Project [] so you might want to try it.

    All of these will not solve all your issues but no application does and as these three above are open source, you can do the linking as you like.

    • by Red Storm ( 4772 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:27PM (#8197428)
      Phprojekt is another good one to check out too. I've used it for a few small time projects and most people have found it relatively easy to understand. The thing I like most about Phprojekt over OpenGroupware is the install docs are much easier to understand, and for the most part it's worked straight from the tarball.
      • by einhverfr ( 238914 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {srevart.sirhc}> on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:14PM (#8197754) Homepage Journal
        I can tell you that there are problems you may encounter at the moment trying to get all your needs met and integrated in the way you want. At best, you can probably buy a license for some components that are not yet available via OSS.

        Here is what HERMES offers at the moment:
        Web based CRM including appointments and tasks for customers.

        Features that should be out within another month or 2 include:
        internal communications system (i.e. communications not involving customers)
        Interal appointment handling (i.e. appointments not involving customers)
        Appointment and task delegation.

        In the mid range, I will offer UI independence via SOAP, LDAP, POP3, SMTP, and IMAP.

        In the long run, we want to offer most of what you are looking for. Please understand though, that I have been unable to find any open source packages for handling credit card transactions, so you would probably need to pay for an (expensive) license for such a component.

        Subscription management etc. is not a problem-- there are OSS solutions that could be modified to do this with a trivial amount of work.

        Anyway, Hope this helps.

        I have heard good things about SQLledger, but IIRC, it runs on MySQL, which has a nasty habit of truncating large numbers, so I am not sure if I would trust it. It should be easy to port to PostgreSQL though, I would think.
    • by afree87 ( 102803 )
      By the way, good luck getting your company going! It will be great to have more people using and contributing to open source projects.
    • Does OpenGroupware run on Mac OS? I've been wondering for three weeks about needing an Exchange Server, but not wanting to keep a windoze box running 24/7. I would LOVE to get a powerbook and opengroupware as a server (for three people) and have outlook as the client (Outlook just works the best with the palm, multiple catagories, etc). Thanks :)

  • by Red Storm ( 4772 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:24PM (#8197398)
    I have run into this problem a few times with my busisness. What did I end up doing? I resorted to the ultimate open source system, pen and paper. I have looked at a few packages for use as an accounting system but I seemed to always run into a problem with this and that, and when I'd try and read the documentation it sucked ass! It assumed you already knew XY and Z to get the package working when you don't really need to know them when it's finaly working. I dislike winblows as much as the next Slashdotter, but I have to say most programs in the windows einvironment install and work out of the box, and the install documentation is written at a level even a drunk person can understand.
    • To be quiet honest, I find that sort of ridiculous. The business I work for insisted on Macintosh and has been using Quickbooks since before I got there, but if I were using OSS to help a business there are certainly things it can do better than pen and paper.

      A simple spreadsheet in gnumeric or OpenOffice is surely faster than calculating by hand. Word Processors are a dime a dozen. I don't believe there is anything like quickbooks (heck, I have one windows machine around just so I can run Quicken) but
  • It costs you a couple bucks for some Windows licenses. In the grand scheme of your business, it is an insignificant cost.

    It is also a business expense which makes it tax-deductible, so the actual cost is even lower than the price you pay up front for those licenses.

    Suck it up and join the rest of the business world.
    • by SIG TR0LL ( 749566 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:31PM (#8197457)
      It costs you a couple of bucks to buy Starbucks coffee for all your employees. In the grand scheme of your business, it is an insignificant cost.

      It is also a business expense which makes it tax-deductible, so the actual cost is even lower than the price you pay up front for coffee.

      Suck it up and join the rest of the business world.
    • by Red Storm ( 4772 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:32PM (#8197472)
      True, very true. However if you have let's say an IT budget of only $5000 and you have to get enough machines for 4 people, what then? True you can "suck it up" and purchase a machine with windows installed, but if you choose to use linux as we all know that saves you a few bucks now. Writeoffs only happen at tax time, not at startup.
      • This immediately becomes an ever bigger problem if the business is running from several places and not one central office.
      • OK, Charlie, let's examine this old chestnut of an argument that you've trotted out.

        So, I'm going to start a business with 5 employees, including myself. I have a $5000 IT budget. I am the only one in the office with any computer experience, which is as follows:

        - About 15 years of 'practical' computer experience.
        - About 5 years professional experience as a desktop jockey and, later, as a Windows sysadmin.
        - I've installed a half-dozen UNIX (mostly BSD) servers for very, very small web sites, but neve

        • by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Friday February 06, 2004 @01:23AM (#8198482)

          I am the only one in the office with any computer experience, which is as follows:

          - About 15 years of 'practical' computer experience.
          - About 5 years professional experience as a desktop jockey and, later, as a Windows sysadmin.
          - I've installed a half-dozen UNIX (mostly BSD) servers for very, very small web sites, but never as a file/application server.
          - I've tried Linux on the desktop a few times, but gave up after a week of fighting with any number of typical desktop Linux problems (hardware support, package management, etc).


          True, buying Windows means I can't afford the same hardware horsepower, and I may be stuck using a PC as a server (instead of a 'real' one), but I can fix 95% of it myself.

          Let's look at the situation.

          You're not qualified to administer a Linux environment. You probably don't want to bet a business on it without additional training or help.

          But you do have experience with running a Windows environment. So you'll be able to handle that. Your choice will be pretty easy to make.

          Of course - plenty of buisnesses consist of people without any IT experience on any platform. These folks will either need training or hire help. And in this day and age, finding help with Linux is not so hard.

          This happened in countless scenarios that I've personally witnessed (after having been brought in to take over the maintenance once the business gets busy enough). This constant "linux is cheaper" chant is completely, yet unsurprisingly, ignorant of several factors above and beyond the actual purchase price.

          The pitfall small businesses run in to is thinking that since they've used Windows at home, they can also manage to run a reliable Windows-based infrastructure at work. And sure - they may get it running at first. But they inevitably run in to a situation where they need to hire help. So much for avoiding the cost of hiring IT experience. This is the scenario that I have personally experienced (and been hired to handle) numerous times.
    • VMWare $280
      WindowsXP License $180
      Quickbooks Pro $300

      Not risking a business to save $760, priceless.

      In the end you'll get more out of doing it right the first time than you will by screwing up your accounting/etc and hiring someone (or wasting someone's time) to fix it.
      • by originalhack ( 142366 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:42PM (#8197547)
        I started using Intuit products with Quicken 2.0 and Quit after buying Quickbooks Pro 2000. It deliberately disables many obvious features in attempts to sell add-ons and internet services. It has a very heavy-handed registration process and contacts Intuit's servers later without asking. And worst, it has essentially no open interfaces so it traps your data within itself and refuses to allow itself to integrate with other applications.

        That was my last purchase from Intuit. I have removed it from my system and it sits on a shelf.

        • If you try Gnucash [] you will find it pretty much ok for single user accounting. What is interesting is the international support, For example, if you are an american living/working in Germany, then it is kind of useful to have German book keeping standards but retain an English GUI.

          Quick-books can't properly handle multiple currencies whilst GnuCash seems to have no problems. You may have as many currencies as you want then balance them out at any time with a current or historical exchange rate. QB Profess

      • by Senior Frac ( 110715 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:51PM (#8197610) Homepage
        It's not the first $780 he's worried about, but the the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.
      • I haven't used it, but Intuit does have an online version of QuickBooks []. Could be a good way to go.
      • The $480 in software to give your accountant a Windows XP machine that runs Quickbooks Pro is well worth it, but there's no reason why the secretary needs XP... (s)he can have all the resources (s)he needs with a Linux box that's capable of running and Mozilla, assuming the business is running an HTML-based system for its main workflow-tracking software so there's no Win-only client involved there.
    • Tax-deductible expenses only do you any good if you have profits to write them off against!
    • by Strudelkugel ( 594414 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:39PM (#8197521)

      The parent should not have been modded flamebait.

      Are you running a business to make money, or just to say you used OSS? It seems pretty clear that you don't have a business plan, because if you did, the cost of licensing v. cost of finding something that might work would have become apparent, and you wouldn't have had to ask this question. Forget about technology for a sec, get out your favorite spreadsheet and crunch your finances. Get your priorities in order. Don't make the same mistakes [] my former associates and I did

  • by BeBoxer ( 14448 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:27PM (#8197429)
    Have you looked around on There are quite a few people providing some sort of business management package. A quick search for "billing invoicing" turned up the Trabas VoIP Billing package [] as the first hit. Probably a good place to start. I'm sure there is plenty of stuff that will do most of what you want. Is your company comfortable with doing some minor coding on an existing project to get exactly what you want? If so, there are a lot more options.
  • by dot-magnon ( 730521 ) <.co. .at.> on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:28PM (#8197435) Homepage
    I think this is a common problem. I run a business myself, with two friends. We've just started, but we're looking into getting things like customer related software in order before doing anything serious about ourselves. I've worked voluntary with organisations and economy before, and I know things screw up if things are not kept track of.

    I think your questions are hard to answer, and even though I have searched a lot for software (not online shopping/CC, we send invoice by mail since we're only doing business inside Norway) I have yet to find anything free and useful.

    We've really considered doing it ourselves, making a simpe customer registration and management system with a web frontend. Using f.i. perl modules, you can create Excel documents with tabular data, and such. So that might be a thing to do. If you accept a tiny bit of manual work, that is. Of course, that tiny bit isn't that tiny after you've got hundred customers to bill.

    But at least, I know that GnuCash [] has some functions regarding invoicing and customer registry, but I haven't really had the time to try it out. The rest of GnuCash is good, though, so there should be a hope. So far we can keep track of our economy, and if it works, GnuCash might do our customers as well, even generating invoices.

    Good luck, and I hope this post will create some feedback for myself as well. Feel free to email me if you want to discuss, by the way.
    • by RajivSLK ( 398494 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:19PM (#8197786)
      We had a similar problem at Sparklit ( if you interested). We ended up developing a CRM from the ground up. We started with something simple and over the years it has grown into a very robust system rivaling anything I have seen.

      Every person we have shown it to says something to the effect of "Wow, Why don't you sell this?".

      Some of the features are:

      Automatic Re-occurring Subscriptions (Discounts/Usage Charges etc are supported)
      Automatic Credit Card Billing
      Support Incidents/Tickets (with multiple statuses/email notification etc)
      Reporting: Revenue/Income/Product growth/Usage etc
      User memos/phone logs
      Debit/Credit Manager
      Fraud Manager
      User Output Tracker (Can track a users usage of the site in real-time. Useful for debugging.)
      Debt Manager - (Automatic Processes owing accounts through 7 steps "Email Invoice/Snail Mail Invoice/Legal Notices/Collection Agency etc" all without any human intervention)

      And much more stuff that is very specific to our system. The point is that you can write a specific app that will perform much better than 3rd party "generic" apps. It is the specific things that will save you time. For example our support request system has a feature that will automatically alert me via Jabber when a support request comes in. It will then analyze the ticket looking for common keywords and suggest a list of "Quick Answers" to respond with. Due to the level integration required with our other systems a third party solution was out of the question. You might find the same.
  • While you're waiting for your Slashdot answer, start the egg timer and multiply it times the amount of money you're burning waiting for the ideal answer. If no reasonable OSS alternative exists, then cut your losses, salvage what parts of your OSS policy that you can, make a decision and get moving. I've been in places where the developers have two workstations - a Unix and a Windows - exactly for the situation you describe. Or relegate Linux to the servers but put Xwindow on the developers Windows machines. That's a day one decision, not one to labor over and try to get perfect otherwise everything falls to pieces.

    Your internal IT should never ever never be a gating item for letting your business department do what it needs to do. If the chairman of the board likes MS Word and just doesn't "get" Open Office, then the amount of his and your time that you burn trying to show him the light will forever outweigh the cost you would have paid to get him a Crossover license and a copy of Word and keep him happy and concentrating on what he is supposed to be doing.

    • by Kris_J ( 10111 ) * on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:51PM (#8197615) Homepage Journal
      You are completely wrong. An Open Source policy is not just some pie-in-the-sky ideal -- it's a valid business decision based on value and control. Buying into proprietory, closed systems is a significant risk and can result in not only large financial outlays now, but again later, eg; When the product is discontinued and the tax laws change. Software with only a Windows client is almost as bad as no software at all.
      • You are completely wrong. An Open Source policy is not just some pie-in-the-sky ideal -- it's a valid business decision based on value and control.

        Sure, it's a valid business strategy. But you have to know when your strategy is not going well, and change it. Before you even get to the IT section of the business plan, you know you need certain internal systems. The business can run without OSS. It cannot run without accounting software, or whatever it is that the original post (which is not in front of me) said. So I suppose you *could* say "It's more important for everything to be OSS, I guess we will just live without a [blank] system", but I'm not sure that's a valid business decision anymore.

        Buying into proprietory, closed systems is a significant risk and can result in not only large financial outlays now, but again later, eg; When the product is discontinued and the tax laws change. Software with only a Windows client is almost as bad as no software at all.

        It's also the model that's been working for something like 30 years now. While I prefer open source as much as the next guy, you can't just dismiss something as "almost as bad as no software at all" when the world has been running that way just fine. Make open source win by showing it to be of a higher quality than closed -- not by trying to debate why closed source doesnt work. The evidence is against you.

        • by Kris_J ( 10111 ) * on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:11AM (#8198110) Homepage Journal
          It's also the model that's been working for something like 30 years now.
          Working badly. Back a manager into a corner and you might be able to get them to admit just how many times they've had to throw away an expensive peice of software because their company's needs and the software developer's intentions have diverged. I'm sure any study that placed a value on waste due to closed software would come up with a value in the billions, with a b.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          So I suppose you *could* say "It's more important for everything to be OSS, I guess we will just live without a [blank] system", but I'm not sure that's a valid business decision anymore.

          You have created a false dilemna. You suggest there are only two options: non-OSS or nothing. That simply isn't true. All your talk about egg timers and burning money is also unwise. It is fairly obvious that the original poster should not just grab QuickBooks while s/he is at Walmart because it is convenient. Nor should
  • by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:30PM (#8197450) Homepage

    For CRM, we use TUTOS [].

    For accounting, it's SQL-Ledger []. Both the CRM and accounting apps are backed by PostgreSQL [].

    For office suites, OpenOffice [].

    Web browsing is Mozilla; e-mail is whatever our employees prefer (Mozilla, Kmail, Evolution, Pine, Mutt, whatever...)

    We are completely MSFT-free and intend to stay that way.

  • Accounting Software (Score:4, Informative)

    by Count of Montecristo ( 626894 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:30PM (#8197452) Homepage
    We use Passport Software Inc's 'RW32' provided and professionally supported by SCAS [], in Torrance, CA.

    It is a closed source general accounting software, but it runs on Linux, and the clients are linux too.

    It takes off where Great Plains Classic left, when it got shut down by microsoft in favor of MS Dynamics, and i think its great, rock solid stuff. (passport, not Dynamics)

    Also, it is written in COBOL, and uses ACUCORP's ACUCOBOL runtime, for which you need a license. Finally, ACUCORP provides an ODBC driver that works pretty nicely with PHP for web frontends and reporting, and also runs on Linux.

    The only gripe I have, is terminal emulation in Konsole, 'cuz the graphics characters come out as A-umlauts and what have you, and i cant seem to find documentation for that issue anywhere.. suggestions?

  • by martijnd ( 148684 ) * on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:37PM (#8197506)
    Simple answer: what you are looking for does not (yet) exist.

    There are a lot of fancy applications on the net, none of them any usefull for your purposes (and please prove me wrong, I'd though I had been pretty thorough)

    Having looked at the same problem for my own small business I'd say that if your business is essential to you, you either start asking for quotations for companies that can deliver a solution to fits your purposes or find a stock application that does most of what you need. (and does it in a way that most members of staff understand it)

    Look at the price, and see if its matches your needs and budget.

    As you are setting up your own business, you should NOT be fooling around trying to recreate the wheel; you will need al your energy to focus on your business and hope that it doesn't go belly up.

    One sure way of doing that is having a dozen incompatible systems hide all your major business information from you, your customers, and your staff.
  • SQL-Ledger (Score:4, Informative)

    by slpalmer ( 6337 ) * <slpalmer@gmail.cRABBITom minus herbivore> on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:39PM (#8197516)
    I was recently asking this same question, albeit for a home-based consulting business.

    The solution that I found was SQL-Ledger []. While it is overkill for my needs, I think it might fit your criteria quite well.
  • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:46PM (#8197577)

    You will likely need windows for some things, unfortunatly. Fortunatly Wine works very well for a lot of window programs, and since you are looking for which one you use, you can demand Wine compatability from the start.

    Don't be a jerk instisting on all open source, you have a buisness to run, and that means spending money once in a while. Don't waste your money (except by sending it to me....), but don't be too frugal either. If you can only get what you need from a pay software, buy it and get on with your buieness.

    P.S. buy Crossover as your wine implimentation, those guys put a lot of support into wine and should be helped. (Or alternativly you can get WineX, but they focus on games so I doupt you care about their advantages)

  • Try a Mix (Score:2, Interesting)

    by NullProg ( 70833 )
    Open Source doesn't mean free. If you use mySql/ReiserFS in a commercial environment you will have to pay a fee (but you get the code).

    If you need Oracle and Windows to manage clients, then purchase a license for both. You could start out as a free company, and then work out the bugs without licensing issues. Start charging for the service later. As far as business/CRM software is concerned, IBM and SAP both offer professional services for Linux (but you need some money).

    Your not going to get free access
    • Re:Try a Mix (Score:5, Informative)

      by SwansonMarpalum ( 521840 ) <.redina. .at.> on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:25PM (#8197820) Homepage Journal

      Your opinion comes from a demonstrably spurious source.

      MySQL and ReiserFS are both made available under the terms of the GNU General Public License. []

      The GPL allows people to do absolutely whatever they want with software obtained under it, including using it to run their business in a commercial environment. The GPL does not allow one to distribute the product which was obtained through the GPL in a non-GPLed product, or to distribute products which contain GPLed products under a non-GPL license.

      MySQL AB and Hans Reiser make their money by offering alternative commercial licenses which will allow you to distribute the work you derive from their work under a non-GPL license. This only means you have to pay them if you want to release software which links to the code they wrote

  • Citrix. Put one or more Citrix servers in the server room. Put the few apps you can't find anywhere else on it. Citrix has clients for pretty much anything.

    You're set. As open source apps start filling the gaps switch over. No, Citrix isn't cheap but it works. It works very well.
  • Open for Business (Score:2, Informative)

    by MasterMnd ( 95596 )
    It's not a complete solution yet. But it has an excellent framework and a quite active group of programmers behind it.
  • by smoon ( 16873 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:52PM (#8197622) Homepage
    You're running a business. Get over the idealism and focus on what you _need_.

    You need an accounting system that an auditor from a public firm will write an unqualified opinion on. In general this is going to mean a commercial product -- Solomon, Great Plains, Quickbooks, etc.

    You need a payroll system that always works. Flawlessly. Many companies outsource this. Explaining to folks that the .7 version borked the checks and you've upgraded to .8 and that borked the witholding info so now you need to rebuild it -- that's unacceptable. Bite the bullet and focus on your business needs.

    You need a business plan that the investors technical people will sign off on. Betting everything on untried and little-used systems isn't going to get you there.

    So for a lot of things: buckle down and do what needs to be done.

    For the other 90% -- use open office, linux or bsd desktops, open groupware or even openexchange (suse). There are plenty of Linux/BSD/Apache/whatever storefront systems. Work on it. For the accounting/finance/etc folks -- get a windows terminal server and use rdesktop for those windows apps.

    • smoon's got a point - and you might be best of with a mix...

      Use open source wherever you can, but for some of the apps, you might need commercial ones.

      The commercial Accounting/Business management CRM, etc solutions that are out there are still years ahead of anything open source - they might be your best choice - and there are some available that will run on an open source OS (even for the desktop)

      (i work for a company that has such a product...)
  • by case_igl ( 103589 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @10:53PM (#8197633) Homepage
    If you are a startup looking to get into the VoIP market, chances are almost all of your customers are going to be running some kind of Windows based computer.

    While I applaud open source and use it myself wherever I can personally, and in our offices, we still all have Windows machines on our desks.

    If 95% of your customer base (and honestly the number is probably higher) is using Windows to either use your product, learn about your product, or do things like manage their accounts it is foolhearted to not have that technology available yourself.

    Our servers and backend systems all run Linux, and yes it does save us money, but don't handicap your business' already statistically slim chances for success by not using a platform most of your customers will!
    • by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:49PM (#8197953) Homepage Journal
      ...but don't handicap your business' already statistically slim chances for success by not using a platform most of your customers will!

      While it is certainly true that you want to support the platform most of your clients have (English), the converse of deliberately turning away everyone else (Spanish) is false.

      Let's say you 5% of your potential customer base will use something other than Windows. You have 10,000 customers this year. By requiring your customers to use Windows, you've just lost 500 customers. You've also lost 500 others that they recommended to your competitors instead. If that lost revenue is greater than the cost difference of support their systems, you're stupid.

      Frankly, in this day and age, with well defined HTML, CSS and ECMA standards, requiring your customers to use Internet Explorer is insane.
  • What about some of this much ballyhooed CRM on-demand stuff from Siebel, IBM, etc.?
  • by El ( 94934 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:01PM (#8197682)
    Your Customer Support department really needs to run the same OS as the customers they are supporting, so they can recreate problems and sound like they know what they're talking about when walking through steps to solutions. Unless all your customers are Open Source only shops, this means at least most of your customer support personel are going to need Windows boxes.
  • by witten ( 5796 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:03PM (#8197693) Homepage
    You mentioned that you needed to process credit cards. Check out my employer, TrustCommerce [], which offers a completely open source credit card processing API [] for connecting to our payment gateway. It compiles on tons of platforms (including Linux), and we have versions for many programming languages: C, C++, PHP, Python, Ruby, Perl, ColdFusion, Lisp, etc. All code is GPL.
  • OSS does a lot of things well. Things like development tools, operating systems, servers, and, well, I'm stumped past that. I've been running linux for 9 years, and it is all I run at home, so I'm not some MS flunky. OSS also does a lot of things really poorly. Easy installation, self configuration, and interoperation with business software are some of those things. As a startup you can't afford the time it takes to make OSS software interoperate with business software and other companies you will be workin
  • by rufusdufus ( 450462 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:04PM (#8197698)
    Your accountants and your tech staff are totally different people right? If the accountants want to use Windows, and your techs want to use Linux, why not?

    I can totally understand the desire to be in total control of the software on your mission critical VoIP system, and Open Source makes a lot of sense. But forcing accountants who know zip about it to use Linux is foolhardy; the time wasted fumbling with an unfamiliar system will dwarf any savings (financial and spiritual) gained by using some open source thing.
  • Freeside? (Score:5, Informative)

    by jjeffries ( 17675 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:05PM (#8197700)
    Maybe you should take a look at Freeside []. It's aimed at ISP management, so it has most of the functions you'll need, plus it's pretty easy to extend so you could have it set up to provision your VOIP services. If you have a perl guy around it would be easy.

    I played with it for a while but the bosses where I work went with anther, Windows-based management system, that has as yet proven too difficult and unstable to actually put into production.

  • NetLedger

  • Make your own... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:08PM (#8197720)
    You are not going to find an out-of-box product that is perfectly made for your business. Use the open-source LAMP combination (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) to build your own application complete with a built-for you database scheme and user interface. That way, you're sure it'll support absoultely everything your business does, and have the ability to upgrade the software should you ever expand into another product line.

    Hire a consultant, and make sure you own the rights to the resulting code when you're done.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Open Source Java super-integrated shop-in-a-can.
    The Open for Business Project [] sports many features and integrated technologies. Just really impressive stuff, cannot list all the goodies here.

  • SimpleData (Score:3, Informative)

    by coryrauch ( 632434 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:17PM (#8197772)
    SimpleData [] CRM/ERP business software. Works on IE and Netscape, and runs on open-source amp (apache mysql php) platform. I work for this company and we have already over a 100 company sites using it.
  • by ShwAsasin ( 120187 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:23PM (#8197808) Journal
    When I started at my current employer we were an all Windows NT 4 company. Our embedded devices used Dos as well. After discussing the benefits of Linux vs. Windows CE/Pocket PC my manager decided we should write our new software for Linux. Although our software isn't open source, it's a minor step forward (in my opinion). One of our former employees who was incharge of shipping wrote all the databases in Access, which up until now has been a pain in the butt to find an alternative. If you have the time using Apache+PHP+MySQL is a great way to integrate a database for general purposes however it's fairly time consuming. Another alternative is using Open Office's data sources functionality and creating your own forms within the documents. It's similar to Access from what I've played with it, but I'm no Access expert. I do know that you access DBase, MySQL, and several other database types and since OpenOffice is available for Windows/Linux it's something to consider. I haven't found anything good as of yet and the accounting department is pretty reluctant to hand over their software for me to test in Wine. =D
  • by ziegast ( 168305 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:27PM (#8197831) Homepage
    Requiring an Oracle license is one thing ..., not working properly with Mozilla is another (you need IE to use it fully in HTML mode). What other options are there?

    If you use Oracle Applications, you might be interested in Oracle's announcement [] that they're going to be supporting Mozilla.

    That takes care of half of the problem.


    Karma: Whore (you look at your article scores after posting)
  • by m0nkyman ( 7101 ) on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:37PM (#8197877) Homepage Journal
    ... and get together with an MBA, and write the killer app for OS. Put together a modular business package, customizable for a variety of businesses (that's where you make the money). Look at ACC-PAC for inspiration. Most businesses need :
    Accounts Receivable/Customer relations
    Accounts Payable/Supplier relations
    Payroll/ HR management

    This ain't rocket surgery. It is painfully dull, boring and potentially stupidly lucrative.

    As one person I suggested it to said: "Thom, that would be great but involves two things that geeks hate: writing accounting software, and cold calling."

    Most businesses that need this desperately are small to medium sized businesses that are currently using a few thousand dollars worth of computer hardware exactly the same way they would use a two hundred dollar typewriter.

    When I started where I work, inventory was typed out in MS Word, and printed out once a year, with additions hand written throughout the year. We're currently paying someone several thousand dollars to write an inventory database for us in Filemaker. Why wasn't this done years ago? THEY DIDN'T KNOW IT COULD BE DONE!!! If you want to make a good living, and can write accounting software, cold call businesses in your area, and tell them:
    "I can make the computer work the way YOU want it to work, not make you work the way that off the shelf software wants you to work."
    You will make the sale, and you can reuse your code on the next project.

    Why don't I do it? I have a job I like more, that pays enough to keep me in all the toys I want. :)
    • This ain't rocket surgery. It is painfully dull, boring and potentially stupidly lucrative.

      This and the fact that most geeks do not need the software is why it will not be written anytime soon. No one wants to do the boring drudge work involved to make it usable. Just look that the ever-increasing number of half-finished OSS projects for proof. Onces the sexy code is written, development slows, documentation is neglected, and developers move on to the Next Big Thing.

      • This and the fact that most geeks do not need the software is why it will not be written anytime soon. No one wants to do the boring drudge work involved to make it usable. Just look that the ever-increasing number of half-finished OSS projects for proof. Onces the sexy code is written, development slows, documentation is neglected, and developers move on to the Next Big Thing.

        The fundamental problem here is that many (most?) geeks view OSS as just free software / free lunch / hobby. Sure, nobody wants t
    • When will some OSS developers get a clue... ... and get together with an MBA, and write the killer app for OS.

      Yes... Now where would we find an experienced devloper with an MBA []? Hmmmm. :)
  • by invisik ( 227250 ) * on Thursday February 05, 2004 @11:56PM (#8198010) Homepage
    I am a consultant that started my own thing just about a year ago. I do a lot of day-to-day Windows stuff, but internally run SUSE on just about everything and my wife has a Powerbook.

    We use Quickbooks 2003 for accounting. Works well, fairly easy to use for my non-accounting brain. What I did to accomplish this was to run a Windows 2000 Server basically as a terminal server to allow either one of us to use Quickbooks on our boxes. I had the firewall forwarded so my accountant could get into it as well. They key is not to use the box for anything else, no web browsing, no e-mail, no nothing. Keep it patched, toss on a copy of Symantec antivirus, install the free version of SFU and you can back it up over the network on yer linux box. Seems to be the best way to "Windows-enable" your linux network.

    I also run Mozilla mail against SUSE OpenExchange Server with great success and happiness. OpenExchange has an excellent web interface to mail as well as document management (with revision control), knowledgebase, contacts with contact history type functionality, job and project tracking (admittedly difficult to use), and internal instant messaging. Can sync yer Palm to it as well, or toss on Outlook with IMAP if you really have to. It's quite an excellent product and the pricing is quite reasonable considering what it can do. Doesn't need huge system resources either. I run it on dual a PIII-866 with 256MB right now--512MB would be quite sufficient. (swaps a bit with 256)

    OpenOffice.Org runs on the SUSE desktops and the PowerBook has genuine MS Office X. She gets into some complex Excel formulas and macros so decided to go MS on that one. I have NO problem recommending OpenOffice.Org to anyone doing office tasks. If you gotta have support, go StarOffice from Sun--just as good, only a few bucks.

    I haven't really gotten into any of the PHPProjekt-type wares. Seem to be a lot of functionality, but not much of it done up really well, and much less of it useful in and office setting. That groupware "killer app" is still lurking out there somewhere, if it's not the SUSE product.

    Linux on the desktop is definately do-able. I do it here. My wife's old PC with XP crashed a few months ago--bought her the PowerBook and never thought about the Windows box again. All of your major tasks can be done on linux. I have an IBM X31 laptop and SUSE Pro 9.0 support all my hardware, including wireless network card and even some funky IBM stuff. I'm sure RedHat would be fine as well, especially on desktop systems--your preference.

    The community will get better with accounting-type programs. I think it will probably still be a few years until something surfaces. The Win 2000 as terminal server should suffice until then, and it's not too expensive.

    Good luck in your efforts, let us all know how you end up!

  • What OSS is about? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AchilleTalon ( 540925 ) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:02AM (#8198060) Homepage
    Seems you forgot what OSS is about. It's about customizing, debugging, developping, sharing, documenting and contributing. That's where the cost of your software lies.

    If you think you have no time for any of this item or no bucks to pay for someone else to workout on what prevent you to use it, you may be happy with a commercial package you will pay someone to install with the great advantage to open an incident report or bug report when you will be stuck with it. Or open a design change request, hoping the software vendor will consider it in any coming release of his product.

    There is no such thing like a free lunch!

  • sql-ledger (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dentar ( 6540 ) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:20AM (#8198160) Homepage Journal
    if you're referring to bookkeeping, then try sql-ledger.. i run mine on it!!
  • by mooman ( 9434 ) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:38AM (#8198259) Homepage
    Depending on your timeframe, xrms [] might be a good choice for a CRM package. It's nearing a 1.0 release and eventually will integrate with many of the other apps mentioned here like SQL-Ledger. It's based on PHP running with MySQL or several other databases..

    I'm actually in the process of installing xrms as a CRM from a support standpoint, not from a sales one. It has a nice user database, a basic ticketing system, and a fairly polished interface for a new app. It was one of the few that spanned both worlds (support vs. sales) with any finesse.

    There are several developers involved that are happy to take suggestions and plan out new features.
  • My opinion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dtfinch ( 661405 ) * on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:39AM (#8198263) Journal
    There's a lot of good open source software out there. You might find several useful to your company. But I haven't found any really complete OSS business solutions that don't rely on proprietary software. Like that Compiere makes me wonder if it was made by Oracle just to attract customers.

    Just remember that your ultimate goal is increasing profit, which is often helped by reducing expenditures but not always if it forces you to use something that's of lower quality. Most Linux projects have Windows ports, and chances are you're already running Windows, and your new PC's have it preinstalled accounting for $50 of the cost.

    Don't shut out proprietary software but don't shut out Open Source either. Use whatever will lead to the best profits. You'll probably want at least one good Linux server for general purpose use. There are many good groupware related websites you can install on it for your intranet. OpenOffice works as well as MS Office for most tasks, sometimes better. If you use Microsoft Access, there aren't any OSS alternatives for running your preexisting Access apps, but you can find and download the little known free Access Runtime which works for most of them.

    So to summarize, Windows desktops for compatibility, OSS software running on top, Linux servers wherever you're not locked in to Windows, and the free Access Runtime if you need Access but wish to use OpenOffice.
  • Mixed Environment! (Score:3, Informative)

    by ( 528791 ) <> on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:53AM (#8198340) Homepage
    I don't know what no one has really talked about using both. If you want linux on the client use rdesktop [] to connect to a windows box with terminal services for the software you can't use on Linux or try CrossOver Office [] the other alternative is to have Windows on the client and use WinAxe [] or another X server to conenct to Linux. If you don't like thoes ideas you can also use Open Source Windows software []
  • by tomRakewell ( 412572 ) on Friday February 06, 2004 @01:13AM (#8198436)

    Ever since I started getting those threatening postcards from the Business Software Alliance [], I have been determined to do whatever I can to get Microsoft out of my business. It has not been easy at all. In fact, I wonder if my extreme hatred for Microsoft has clouded my business judgment.

    My work has not been all for naught. I have easily and painlessly jettisoned Microsoft from all of our critical Internet infrastructure. No more Microsoft http servers, smtp servers, file servers, etc. This is where open source excels. It does not make much business sense to use Microsoft for stuff like this.

    Another huge open source success is the use of Postgresql instead of Oracle or SQL Server. It was easy to re-program our proprietary apps to use Postgres. We save a ton of money by never paying for an Oracle license. Unless you can't live without DB clustering or other advanced features, Postgres is the answer.

    My efforts to get rid of our proprietary point of sale/order entry system have taken me down a long, complicated road, and I have decided that the best solution is developing a completely custom system. This has cost a ton of time and money, and in two years has still not resulted in a functioning alternative or the decomissioning of a single Microsoft server! One day, though, I swear it will pay dividends. My stubborness here has so far been a big can of worms. But who knows, even massive, expensive fiascos like The Big Dig can one day "go live" and everybody is grateful.

    OpenOffice is a no-brainer, unless you need to exchange documents with other firms, or you need some of MS Office's advanced features. My employees initially revolted (they were just not used to it). But OO is surprisingly feature-rich, if not intuitive or robust. Of course, even though OO has been a GREAT success story, it is still deployed on Windows machines. However, I now have a migration path to Linux workstations.

    I do not even have any desire or plans to get rid of all the Microsoft boxes. We will still use Quickbooks for the back end accounting. We will still do desktop publishing using BSA-approved software (although the GIMP has replaced Photoshop in our non-print work).

    The one shining beacon of hope for me is that, even though I have not significantly reduced the number of Windows machines at my business, I have significantly increased the number of FreeBSD and Linux servers, and I have not ever upgraded my Windows NT 4.0 workstation licenses!

    My advice is to use OSS whereever you can, and proprietary software whereever you must. Always make technology decisions that give you the option to migrate to OSS if the option presents itself.

  • by firewrought ( 36952 ) on Friday February 06, 2004 @02:08AM (#8198735)
    Business has a lots of needs that OSS does not address. In part, this is probably because business coding is the most mind-numbing coding one can do, so volunteers don't take them on often. GNU Enterprise [] may eventually help here, but it's going to take a long time, and bringing the necessary expertise to the table will be difficult (if the gnue project even realizes it needs this expertise).

    What sort of needs does a big business have? Well, they all need to manage human resources []. Most need to track items in their warehouses [] and perhaps training for their employees []. The industrial sector will have many additional needs [] to track equipment, schedule resources [], control work authorizations, and safely take equipment in and out of service. Running an enterprise call system also takes more than a PHP app [].

    There are dozens of other highly generic needs that I haven't mentioned, but all take extensive effort to set up, customize, and integrate into a business environment. And these things are *mission critical*: millions of dollars can ride on the availability of the software. Open source can eventually get here, but it will have to (first) be written, (second) creep up through small business, and (third) be vetted and pushed by consultants who can make money from long-standing service contracts.

    I'm not trying to be pessimistic about open source, but there are many unmet needs here. Don't expect to run a serious business without proprietary software. In fact, be as objective as possible when evaluating software needs for your business... pretend that you have to defend every decision in front of someone who doesn't care about the distiction b/t free and non-free software. Someone who only thinks in terms of money, growth potiential, implementation schedules, and risk. If OSS can't stand its ground here (even with the price advantage), drop it. Don't jeporadize your business, and (if you're working for someone else) don't give your boss a bad taste of what OSS is all about.

    Stallman--as much as I support the guy--completely misses the real world when he says that "any business based on proprietary software deserves to fail". Deserving or not, any medium or large business that is not based on proprietary software will fail.

    I hope open source can one day address these needs, especially for small businesses and start-ups, but I'm not too worried even if it can't. If Linux becomes good enough in other aspects, these proprietary apps will be made to run on Linux too (and some of them already do). "Mostly" free is good enough for me.

  • simple tip (Score:5, Insightful)

    Whatever you do in the end, don't make the same mistake that tech-oriented people always make. Namely, putting the technology ahead of the business. There is no point of using OSS just because you want to. What comes first is the business. What is best for the business? If it is Windows, that's what you should go with. If OSS works out better, that's what you should use. Also, don't forget that you can have a mix. For example, you can use some Windows software for the business process tasks (say CRM or something) but use linux (openoffice,etc) for basic desktop use. Depending on what you need, you can pull your customer data from the Windows database (say MySQL, or MS SQL Server, or Oracle) into a linux application (this depends on what your final business software allows).

    Sivaram Velauthapillai
  • by rleyton ( 14248 ) on Friday February 06, 2004 @06:56AM (#8199696) Homepage
    I've puzzled and pondered this issue myself a few times, and even in the small company I work for, with just laptops to worry about, means it's really just fighting a Microsoft addiction [] I - as Linux/Mac user - worry about.

    But in this discussion, I'd think it'd be very informative to find out how Sun, Apple, Oracle and other publicly avowed Microsoft dislikers run their business? Surely they, more than anybody else, has a business strategy at all levels to use non-MS products for their business operations, preferably their own.

    Clearly, Apple, Sun and so on use MS in various parts of their organisation. They'd be unable to develop their products without MS systems, but across the organisation as a whole, what do they use for all of the problems you describe?

    I've heard stories of Sun types pulling out Windows laptops and getting tuts from the techies in the room, but that was a few years ago, prior to StarOffice...

    So, anybody know what these guys use?

  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <> on Friday February 06, 2004 @08:31AM (#8200002)
    We - a small group of freelancers that I've managed to gather - are building an ERP infrastructure for a small local E-Commerce business, with Billing, Supply Chain Management and some other stuff joinging the mix almost right on site with one of our clients.
    From what I have expierienced, even with finacial and CRM software is that it in the end even isn't worthwhile looking at commercial proprietary software.
    My strong advice:
    Get an OSS expierienced programmer who is realistic and can ask you the right questions. He absolutely has to be capable of understanding the needs of pragmatic business solutions and your need to also evalutate proprietary products even if he's grown to be very sceptical (like I have). He should also be able to recognize where the bottlenecks in your business are and if the software which screenshots you like so much :-) really is worth it.
    We are using OSS all the way through, exept for the businessguy who hasn't gotten around to ditching his Win2K Desktop - which he almost is as anoyed about as the rest of us, since managing all those emails is a major suck with outlook. (Yeah, I know, sounds insane, doesn't it?)

    All the rest is done with either solid OSS solutions - in this case InterChange for the e-Commerce plattform - or custom Code in Python.
    Compiere gives me the creeps aswell, but just the other day I've checked with the GNU Enterprise team, and after pocking them with questions on IRC for 90 minutes I'd say their foundation work seems the way to go for me. Take a look for yourself:
    ( )

    Just now the business has it's model sorted out and we're making the transition from a bunch of patched and modded gluecode scripts to a front line ERP/SCM/CRM system and we are going to join the GNUe folks, contribute to the project and use the gnue-common stuff to build the precise things we need. It may be a struggle at times, but all in all the crap we've put up with in proprietary systems we've shurely had enough of.

    I don't know your field of business, but _if_ you choose to use proprietary software I'd suggest you do thourough evaluation of in-the-field qualities and take a VERY close look at true TCO.

    Remeber: THIS is the area we're the software vendors move into serious bullshitting territory in a way that in comparsion one could think the MS Desktop devision is a trustworthy non-profit organization!

    Bottom Line:
    If you have good and solid, non-quirky fanatics-free OSS coders and experts at hand I'd suggest you trust them with your money, otherwise be _extremely_ carefull before you buy yourself into a lock-in with a crappy line of software products. You can't imagine what proprietary rubbish people sell for money.

    BTW: If you happen to reside in germany or benelux, I'd be happy to have a talk and look if I can maybe be of use and able to toss you a pitch. Feel free to drop me a line if you think I can help you.
    (Here's my public mailbox: r_i-t_s-c_h-r_a-t_s-c_h @ g-m_x-_-. d_-_e without the Hyphens, Spaces and Underscores)

I owe the public nothing. -- J.P. Morgan