LWN readers need not be told that this publication is strongly biased in
favor of free software. So it should come as no surprise that we follow
the path we preach for others. The entire LWN operation is based on free
software, from our desktops to the web servers. We are a free software
success story, just like all those other companies using free software.
Chances are, however, that many of those companies share the one exception
which can be found here at LWN: our business accounting is done using a
well-known, proprietary, small business bookkeeping tool. It has all the
problems associated with such tools: it holds our company data in an
opaque, proprietary format, it does not interoperate with the rest of our
operation, it does not work as reliably as we would like, and it
occasionally forces an expensive upgrade to a new version for no clear
reason. Plus there's that proprietary operating system that the
bookkeeping application depends on.
Various attempts to replace this application have failed to take off. It's
hard to replace a functioning, important business subsystem, and, frankly,
free alternatives in the business accounting area have been slow to reach a
mature state. Your editor has recently become determined to change this
situation, though. Enough is enough.
A new accounting system will have to meet a number of needs. To begin
with, it must be able to import accounts and historical data from the
proprietary application. It should operate in a multi-user,
network-friendly manner. We need all of the usual accounting functions,
from double-entry bookkeeping to easy export of data to our accountant to
the creation of the occasional pie chart. And we would really like the
ability to integrate it with the LWN site code, since so much of our
commerce goes through that code.
There are numerous projects in this space. Your editor's list of
candidates at the moment includes (in no particular order):
- GnuCash: this application is mostly
aimed at personal finance (see this review from 2005), but
it does have some business features built into it as well.
- SQL-Ledger: a longstanding
web-based business accounting system. The code is GPL-licensed (this
week), but its owner (DWS Systems, Inc.) has not always distinguished
itself as a community-oriented operation.
- Ledger-SMB started as a fork
of SQL-Ledger. It has gained significant community support and
diverged significantly in a short period of time.
- Lx-Office is
another SQL-Ledger fork. It appears to be aimed at the needs of
- Compiere is an "integrated ERP
& CRM solution" which happens to have an accounting module built
into it. Like SQL-Ledger, Compiere is the product of a single company
which has not always been as open as its user community would like.
- Adempiere is a fork of
Compiere with a stronger community focus.
- TinyERP is billed as "the world's
most advanced open source ERP & CRM." It appears to have an
active community and a fair amount of documentation - as long as one
doesn't mind reading a little French here and there.
- Lazy8 is a general ledger package
written in Java. It appears to be less feature complete than many of
- OFBiz is an Apache "enterprise
automation software" project with an emphasis on supporting electronic
commerce. It is covered by the Apache license and is used as the base
for a number of other applications, both free and commercial. Free
applications based on OFBiz include Neogia, opentaps, and SourceTap.
- Project Open is a
web-based system with an emphasis on project management.
- ERP5 is "a full featured high end Open
Source / Libre Software solution published under GPL license and used
for mission critial ERP / CRM / MRP / SCM / PDM applications by
industrial organisations and government agencies." The current pace
of development on this project appears to be a little slow, though,
judging from the traffic on its mailing lists.
- Quasar is a formerly
proprietary package which was released under
the GPL at the beginning of 2005. Unfortunately, it appears that
not a whole lot has happened with this package since then.
- Several proprietary accounting packages for Linux exist as well. If
your editor determines that none of the free utilities is yet up to
the task, he will venture into this area. But one can hope that
entrusting a vital business function to another proprietary package
will not be necessary.
As one can see, there is no shortage of alternatives to look at; no doubt
LWN readers will know of a few which your editor missed. Working through
this list will be more than enough to keep an editor busy for some time;
since your editor has no particular passion for accounting, it's also
likely to make him somewhat grumpier than usual. It's clearly not a topic
which can be covered in a single article. So expect a series of
installments as your editor heads into the accounting jungle and tries to
figure out whether it's possible to run a business completely on free
software or not.
to post comments)