Linux for Small Businesses

Introduction

One of the biggest concerns before changing an operating system is, “will my applications work?” It is indeed a legitimate question, especially when you have to run a business, or furthermore, a corporation. Many utilize Microsoft’s Office suite for their daily requirements, while more advanced setups include deploying more extensive databases, such as SQL. In other scenarios, people automate their invoices and taxes via their respective software solutions.

So, what will a businessperson attain by moving away from a Windows operating system (OS) and entering the Linux environment? This significant chapter includes a per-business approach, just as it would on any other platform.

History

I have personally been with computers since 1984, with no relevance to George Orwell’s book, and started with a trusty old Amstrad CPC 464. A tape recorder, 64 kilobytes of RAM (48K available), and a flashing block-cursor waiting for your input the moment you turned on the computer on that old, green screen. Ever since, I’ve moved to the Amiga OS, also known as Workbench (1.3, 2.0, 3.0), which was almost identical to the Macintosh system at the time. Beyond that, I’ve jumped between Windows systems (3.1, 95, 98, ME, NT4, 2000 – to Win10), Linux (starting a bit with SUSE, back in 1995 – now to Ubuntu, Fedora, and Manjaro), and macOS X (from Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion, and now to Big Sur).

As one would expect, I had to find a way for these systems to work well together. I made the first big step during Autumn of 2011 when I implemented my first Linux File Server and Cloud. It was a difficult step, to begin with, but once ready, the level of security and convenience was simply mind-blowing. I set up a working folder that resided on the Linux Server running the Debian distribution. This folder would exist on both the desktops and the laptop I was using. When I would need to go out of the office, I was sure to have all the necessary files along with me. When I returned, the laptop would automatically login to the WiFi, and the Linux Server would grab all the updated files and pass them on to the local storage of the desktops. This process would work both ways, and the best part of it was that I could select if I wanted the cloud to reach out to the Internet or keep it off-limits to everyone outside the office. If I had made a mistake and wanted to go back to a previous version, the Linux Server had a file history. Therefore, I could quickly revert to an earlier version of a specific file.

My principal experience with Linux lies in the design of powerful workstations – and the creation of business administration environments.

How does that work?

Between 2011 and 2016, Linux was the gatekeeper of all my work, and I would operate using Windows. The hard drives on the Linux Server were always “fresh” – as the OS follows a technique where it pre-allocates required space and therefore never needed defragmentation. The system automatically managed disk health.

Yes, the setup can be tedious to begin with, and get comfortable with. However, much has evolved since. When I log in to a Windows system, my work folder would be a mapped drive (such as Z:). On my MacBook, it would be a desktop folder. On my Linux laptop, it would also be a desktop (or any other location) folder. With that method, every different computer would be in complete sync with one another. This was made possible with the Free and Open Source cloud application called NextCloud.

https://nextcloud.com

Software

This is the million-dollar question. What software do I use?

Let’s take it to the level of a small business. You are going to need an office suite, correct? The good news is that there are a few solutions on Linux. Most are free, but some may require payment (mainly for additional services). It all depends on what it is you are looking for.

The two most common office suites for Linux are Libre Office:

https://www.libreoffice.org/download/libreoffice-in-business/

And Only Office (follows more closely the structure and formatting of MS Office):

https://www.onlyoffice.com

I could also mention the WPS Office (https://www.wps.com/), but the company is publicly traded on the corporate level in the Hong Kong Exchange Market. Therefore I cannot vouch for its complete independence from government interference. Plus, the Linux Personal Edition hasn’t been updated since 2019.

Libre Office

Libre Office is the “mothership” of the Linux Office suites. It features apps for:

  • · Documents
  • · Spreadsheets
  • · Presentations
  • · Vector Drawings
  • · Mathematics
  • · Databases

It uses the primary format of Open Document (ODT for text, ODS for spreadsheets, etc.) and supports many file formats, including Microsoft’s.

Only Office

The Only Office suite follows the setup footsteps of Microsoft’s Office suite. This includes the user interface, as well as the actual formatting and file types used. However, it only focuses on the three main categories of an office bundle:

  • · Documents
  • · Spreadsheets
  • · Presentations

The developers of this office suite offer a subscription plan that allows the user to store everything on the cloud, thus making collaboration a much easier process for everyone involved. This option includes calendar, project management, mail, CRM (Customer Relations Manager), and other integrations: Pricing plans for ONLYOFFICE Cloud Service | ONLYOFFICE.

They also have the option to set up a dedicated server for their clients at a one-time payment: Prices for ONLYOFFICE Docs Enterprise Edition | ONLYOFFICE.

Collaboration, Financials, and CRM

As the world develops and utilizes the Internet more and more, the need for reliable online platforms increases. Therefore, many business solutions rely on today’s browsers. Since Linux has many applications to navigate the Internet, utilizing all those online services has never been easier.

One contender to the Big-Tech regime is Zoho.

https://www.zoho.com

They are based in India, and I have an excellent experience with them. As a platform, Zoho offers a gigantic arsenal of applications to help your business function. From collaboration tools such as Cliq (Slack alternative) to Projects (Monday.com alternative) to Mail, to Calendars, to Help Desk, to CRM, to Invoices, to Books (financial management), etc.

Their main applications are also available for Linux, while their entire suites function via a web browser.

From there on, you can export any financials you have and use it with the web interface of your favorite tax program, like Turbo Tax. However, suppose you are an S-Type or C-Type Corporation not covered by Turbo Tax’s online application. In that case, you can always utilize VMWare’s Workstation Player (free) and install Windows within it.

This approach will allow you to run Windows from inside Linux. However, Microsoft’s OS will be confined by all the security measures the Linux OS offers. So, if your Windows ever gets infected with malware, well, your files are already inside the Linux system and therefore unreachable by bad actors!

In short, all main business applications on Windows require minimal resources (which the OS over-bloats) and can efficiently run via a Virtual Machine, like the VMWare I mentioned above. The funniest part about it is that your entire Windows installation will be a folder (or a file). So, once you install Microsoft’s OS, you can copy the file. If something goes wrong later, you copy the file back, and the guest OS (Windows) will be back to its saved state.

Conclusion

As you can see, there is much to gain and essentially nothing to lose. You can still have the best of all worlds, and Linux can be the solid foundation you can rely on.

7 Likes

Do you know of a Linux program that is like quick books and qbox? My wife does bookkeeping and windows SUCKS

THANKS

1 Like

How about this?

You can give it a shot and see if it works for you.
Also, most of Quickbooks is online (minus the S and C Corporations), so that could be beneficial as well. Especially since it’s browser-based.

Also, there are more options here:

2 Likes

Also, in worst-case scenario, you can install Windows inside of Linux.

1 Like

Are you aware, though, if the quick books alternative allows a portable file to convert to QB outside of the organization? In other words, sending a YTD file to the accountant that only uses QB, would my files convert for importing for them? Maybe the short answer is for me to run MS OS the way you described.

I started out with Invoice2go a couple of years ago I converted over to QuickBooks online. It was a whole Lotta work to put in all new data. If I convert over to zipbooks how much of the data is transferable or do I have to set up all my products, customers, past invoices again?

Hello @Korbelbrandi !

Thank you for this information. I have not considered this approach as we do our accounting (in my company at least) in-house and use the Windows-Guest OS approach within a Linux environment. This is a convenience we can simply back up (the entire OS) externally - encrypted - and put it back on Linux when the next need arises.

1 Like

Perhaps this article can help. CSV files can be a lifesaver.

https://help.zipbooks.com/en/articles/3027654-how-do-i-import-my-existing-invoices-into-zipbooks

Zipbooks does not interest me because it seems they keep your financial information online. I prefer to use software that is only on my computer and under my control. Anyone know of Linux accounting software that is installed on local machine only?

Try GNU Cash

3 Likes

Thanks SBHX. I downloaded GNU Cash and although it seems like a decent program for personal use, it seems a bit lacking if you want to use it for small business. For example, if you receive several checks from customers, it seems you cannot lump them together into one deposit. There are work-arounds, but makes it a bit more cumbersome.

Hey @Margo

Just saw someone mention manager.io today. Don’t know if that would be any better for you, but could be worth a go! :slightly_smiling_face:

Hi Margo. I am working through the GNU Cash tutorial. Perhaps this can be done with splits.

Yes, you are correct. The best way is to create an Asset account called Undeposited Funds. When you use Process Payments for customer invoice payments, use this account as the transfer account. Then when you record the deposit in the checking account register, you can use the Undeposited Funds account as the Transfer account for this deposit transaction. This basically causes the funds to “wash” through the Undeposited Funds account, leaving a balance of zero in this account. The account is created solely to accomodate lumping several check payments into one deposit transaction.

Thanks, I’ll check it out…I can’t tell if this is an online program or not.

@Margo

Their free version is not online. But their paid Cloud version is. Starts at $49/mo for their Cloud version.

Hi @benhamin I started using GnuCash. I like how it works, but can’t figure out why it keeps leaving several log files on my desktop every time after using it. Have you run into this and if so, know how to remedy this? Thanks! Jeff

Hi Jeff. I’ve never experienced that. Odd.
I just did a web search for .

Didn’t find anything specific. Here’s a Wiki post discussing configurations.
https://wiki.gnucash.org/wiki/Configuration_Locations

I’d poke around to see if you find a solution. Or ask the group.
Best wishes!