January 31, 2005

Must-have open source applications for consultants

Author: Rob Sutherland

As a consultant to small businesses trying to get up to speed on Linux, my must-have applications are OpenOffice.org, MySQLAdmin, and Rekall. I'm going to include Knoppix as well; although it isn't an application in the sense of being a single package, I use it as a system recovery tool rather than an operating system.

OpenOffice.org is the key to operating my consulting business and the first application I install from TheOpenCD when I go into a new shop. Having a potential client open a Word document with OpenOffice.org and work with it 15 minutes after you walk in the door is worth a lot in establishing the usefulness of open source. It would be impossible for me to not use Microsoft products without having OpenOffice.org, but with it I'm able to interchange documents, produce presentations, project plans, and access databases for mail merge requirements without spending a cent in license fees. Having a Windows version is also invaluable to me, since it gives the users a common interface on both Linux and Windows boxes.

Usually the client will be looking at setting up something using Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP (LAMP), such as an intranet or an e-commerce package, so the second application I put up is usually MySQLAdmin, a Web-based front end to the MySQL database. When something with MySQL messes up, as it always does, MySQLAdmin is there to help out. As well as being a handy tool for fixing database problems, it also allows you to backup and restore databases for packages that don't have these facilities, extract and load data quickly, and do all the database administration you may need to do using a common interface. It's nice to have something GUI-like to work with when you have clients peering over your shoulder; command lines are very intimidating.

After clients have been working with one LAMP package, such as osCommerce or SQL-Ledger, they usually want to install others, and perhaps convert or access legacy data. At that point, Rekall, an Access-like database front end, becomes a key application. Unlike Access, Rekall allows connections to all the major databases through installable plug-ins. Rekall can become the bridge between legacy data and the LAMP packages, thanks to its abilities to retrieve data from multiple sources and quickly build forms, reports, and scripts to process the data. Rekall can access MySQL, PostgreSQL, DB2, Oracle, Sybase, and other databases though plug-ins, and can access Access via ODBC.

Combined with LAMP technology, these three packages are the key to keeping a business operating. But if the business isn't operating, because of a downed workstation, Knoppix, a bootable Linux distribution, can often help get things going again. Being able to locate and retrieve data from a system crippled by worms and spyware is essential nowadays. In an emergency, Knoppix is your friend.

To sum up, OpenOffice.org, MySQLAdmin, Rekall, and Knoppix are key elements for me in helping clients. Making good use of them can keep you and your clients operating for less.

What are your must-have Linux applications? Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us what essential apps you use and what you do with them. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. Please use proper spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation!

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