May 21, 2005

One small business's year without Windows

Author: Alan N. Canton

My company, Adams-Blake Co., started its business life on a Macintosh platform and moved to Windows in 1995. By late 2001, administration had gone from a chore to a nightmare. When it was again time to upgrade we decided to change to Linux. We began with Mandrake, then tried Slackware, and now run a few machines with Mepis. We've always had a challenge to see if we could not use Windows for an entire year. We've never been able to do it -- until now.

All of our other business functions are covered with Linux. On the desktop, we use Moneydance for accounting. We use Microsoft Word under the CodeWeavers CrossOver Office, and for spreadsheets and presentations. We use the GIMP for graphics and Quanta and Bluefish for editing Web pages. We prepare our payroll with PayCycle. On the server side we keep media lists on MySQL using the phpMyAdmin front end. We wish we had an Access-like front end to MySQL so we could quickly write more complex apps. Finally, we use our own Jaya123 Web service to run order entry, reporting, and invoicing.

However, there was no acceptable way to do taxes on Linux. The software we tried did not run well under CrossOver Office, Wine, or Win2Lin.

This year we did our personal taxes online using TaxAct. For our corporate 1120 forms we used the IRS fill-in forms with the new Adobe Reader 7.0 for Linux. This was not as optimal as using tax software, but small corporate taxes are easy, and preparing them via fill-in forms was not difficult. Maybe next year there will be an online service for small business 1120 forms that works with Firefox under Linux; today most require Internet Explorer.

One great wish is for an Access-like front end to MySQL where we could put up quick-and-dirty data entry forms and create reports. Linux really needs a good (and inexpensive) report generator (like the proprietary Crystal Reports). Rekall, knoda, and others are works in progress and don't come close to the robustness of Access. We can do a lot with phpMyAdmin, but it's not the same. We miss being able to program a GUI application in a few hours using a really good IDE.

Our business is not that different from most others. We have products (books), services (consulting), and employees. If we can go Windowless, others can as well.

Oh, and let me tell you how many times we had to reboot, how many viruses we got, and how much adware and spyware we were infected with. Can you spell Z-E-R-O?

This was the first time we've been able to go a full year without booting Windows. Linux has been slow in coming to the small business sector, but it's almost here now. If we can get a good report writer and database front end (maybe in the new OpenOffice 2.0?) there could be a real contest between Windows and Linux.

Alan Canton is the president of Adams-Blake Company of Fair
Oaks, Calif., which provides the JAYA123 Web-based back office
application for small and mid-size businesses.


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