Open source impressions

A few weeks ago I built myself a new home PC after I bent the pins on the processor in my old PC. Since I know support for WIndows XP will be going away in a few years, and I don’t really care to purchase Vista, I decided to see how well I could cope with “free” software for operating purposes.

At first I tried Ubuntu, because there is often an article about it in the technology magazines I read, so I wanted to see if there was anything special about this latest open source contender. It seems to me that Ubuntu still shows its youth as a distribution when compared to OpenSuse and Fedora, as many simple things that should be automatically detected and configured are left to manual tinkering with the configuration files.

Frustrated with some of Ubuntu’s quirks, I decided to try OpenSuse to see if a more established open source system would be more to my liking. As a first time Linux operator, I have appreciated the friendliness of OpenSuse and it’s ability to handle some of those simple things automatically (I don’t want to edit my xorg.conf file every time I want to switch my monitor or screen resolution). Most of the issues that I have had since installing OpenSuse were dealing with more advanced issues that the average user may not have need to bother with.

One issue occurred because I used Network Manager vpnc instead of the terminal vpnc program. After using the terminal vpnc program and writing my own configuration file for it, I honestly prefer the terminal program. However, after operating Windows only for 10 years, I know why I had an initial inclination towards the GUI program.

I also wanted to try and meet all of my PC needs with a free system to see from a business standpoint if it makes sense for companies to pay Microsoft obscene amounts of money anymore. I will report more fully later, after a year or so of usage, but my impression so far is that the majority of desktops in almost any organization could completely run on open source software while having little if any problems as a result.

Utilize online backups

Small businesses often forget the importance of backing up important data files as most of their time is spent growing revenues and cutting costs.  Both Mozy and Idrive offer a couple gigabytes free for personal or very small business use (this would be good for at least your Quickbooks files) but are limited to Windows based machines.  Unlimited personal use plans are also reasonably priced from these two vendors.

However, being a proponent of open-source programs and software, I expanded my search to find a company that at least supported a Linux solution.  It appears the standard solution is rsync.   Even Ibackup, the other provider I found uses the open-source rsync utility to facilitate Linux backups.

 So, no matter your machine’s configuration, make online backups part of your daily routine to ensure that no matter what calamity may strike, your business will be back up and running smoothly.

Diamond in the rough

An article at PCWorld.com showcased several open-source projects that serve as alternatives to software products for which most users pay dearly.  One of my favorites as an accountant was GNUCash.  While I have not had time to thoroughly review the product, the screenshots appear similar to the registers in Quickbooks.

Considering the price of Quickbooks, and its lack of interoperability between versions (one of the greatest annoyances I have with the program) GNUCash may provide a very simple but powerful alternative for users that are familiar with accounting programs.  I doubt that it is as pretty, but it seems to be a great value.

There were several other products shown in the review and it is a great article for small business owners who are tired of paying high prices for products that overpromise and underdeliver.