November 12, 2003

ISO my perfect SOHO accounting for Linux

Author: Joe Barr

I've been doing a background search for a Linux accounting package for small business the past week or so. The trigger for the search was the recent news of AppGen's apparent demise. It hasn't been so much a problem of finding accounting apps for Linux as it has been finding one I've wanted to use. But I've found one now. It's very nice, it's called QHacc. The only drawback I've found is that it's for home use, not business. My search for a SOHO accounting package will have to continue. This is not a review of QHacc. It's an update on my search-to-date for my perfect SOHO accounting solution for Linux, coupled with an introduction to QHacc.

A proprietary contender

NewsForge received a request from Kalculate a couple of weeks ago asking that we take a look at their proprietary accounting package for Linux. I downloaded the evaluation package to take a look. At the time, I thought I saw a price tag of $10.00, but as I look at the site this morning the cheapest price I can find is $500.00 for a single user SOHO version. No matter.

The problem is that Kalculate doesn't have a Red Hat 9 compatible version, not yet at least. I spent a day or so installing it and trying to get it to run, but the result was that it crashed my box. Kalculate could only suggest that I go back to RH 8 in order to use it.

I don't believe in the tail wagging the dog, so I didn't follow that suggestion. Perhaps on a dedicated machine with no other use other than to run an accounting package it would make sense to have the app drive the distribution and release, but not on my desktop.

This is the same type of mistake that Borland made with Kylix. There may be better reason for an IDE to get its code so entangled with the kernel that it requires specific kernel releases to run than it does for an accounting package, but there are no good reasons for it in either case. It was a stupid design decision. Why? Because it kept Kylix off the desktops of the latest Linux distributions from Red Hat and elsewhere. No wonder they are abandoning the project.

An open source candidate

Then I found AVSAP: A Very Simple Accounting Program. AVSAP is a GPLd accounting package written in Perl. I decided to give it a whirl. AVSAP comes with a healthy list of dependencies which include PostgreSQL and a number of specialized Perl modules. I think it was one of the latter which proved my downfall.

The documentation clearly states, that the README contains everything I need to know. Beyond the README and the INSTALL text, there is no other documentation. This because the author claims that it is idiot-proof. There is a mailing list on SourceForge if you ever do get stuck on something, but I had trouble even getting subscribed to it.

As several readers will no doubt point out, the author has never met me. If he had, he would never make such a claim. I got all the dependencies installed and the app starts up, but I could never successfully add an account. All I got was an error message in the console. Accounting is something that you and your business need to be able to count on. Idiot or not, you need to have a certain comfort-level with an app before entrusting it with these vital chores. Given my problem even setting up accounts, and the fact that I had no help in resolving it save for the README, I decided to just keep looking.

I saw several Web-based packages but passed them by without looking any closer. Maybe I will come back to them at some point in the future. But I don't run an
Apache server on my desktop and I am not much of a fan of Web-based apps in any case. It adds more overhead and complexity to the solution than I want to deal with.

More on page 2...

The Q Home Accountant

Then I found QHacc: The Q Home Accountant. The Q is for QT. There is a nearly identical version called KHacc. The primary difference between the two is that KHacc is written to be integrated into KDE while QHacc was written to be as dependency-free as possible. It's a shame Borland, Kalculate, and many others haven't recognized this as a superior design goal when writing for the Linux platform.

A look at Q Home Accountant.

Ryan P. Bobko, QHacc's creator, asked that I stress one thing in this story. The latest stable release of QHacc is 2.8, not 2.9. He told me by email that "2.8 is missing just about all the coolest features of the 2.9 series, but 2.9 has several areas that are not stable or are missing functionality." Ryan hopes to make that a moot point with the impending release of QHacc 3.0. It might even happen before the end of the year. But in the meantime, be warned.

There is a lot to like about QHacc. Support for both MySQL and PostgreSQL, for example. Or neither if you think they would be overkill for your needs or simply prefer to use QHacc's native database. It supports single or (your choice) double-entry accounting, snazzy graphing of accounts, memorized transactions, drag-and-drop, and even auto-incrementing of check numbers. Not only that, the documentation is excellent, and even includes a primer on accounting.

About QHacc's creator

Bobko is 28 and works as a database administrator. He got interested in Linux and free software while studying computer science. Ryan told me that early in his professional career he realized that "Apache and PHP were the best tools around" for some of his work. He added that his list of favorites now includes MySQL, PostgreSQL, and QT.

The itch in this case came from his frustrations trying to install an older version of GnuCash. He said "That's when I swore my oath to write a program that had absolutely no dependencies. I quickly backtracked and decided that maybe relying on a Toolkit would be minimal enough for my purposes. About the same time, I decided I wanted to reacquaint myself with C++, so Qt was an obvious choice."

You can tell simply by reading the documentation that Ryan has a lively wit and a good sense of humor. QHacc is not a drop-in replacement for Quicken, but then Ryan tells you that right up front when he says "If you think this is a Quicken replacement, you've another thought coming! QHacc won't warn you before you delete the account that has all your mortgage payments in it. It'll let you make multiple accounts with the same name. It follows my ideology exclusively -- you are old enough to know what you're doing, and you probably don't need or want a computer to nag you."

I think he has put together a very nice home accounting package. If you are looking for one, give QHacc or KHacc a try. This might be the one for you.


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