I’m a big fan of open source software. It was the idea of collaboration and influence that appealed to me. It will continue to support the work I do for clients. It’s “my style” and it’s obviously an integral part of how I see the world. For small businesses, nonprofits, and newcomers, I often share open source as an alternative to expensive proprietary software like Norton Antivirus, Microsoft Office, and QuickBooks Accounting. While these are good products, they are very expensive and can lead users to purchase new versions at a cost every year. And these cost increases are reflected not only in the purchase price of the product, but also in the learning curve caused by system conflicts, system bottlenecks, feature changes, and sometimes even forcing users to buy entirely new equipment to “keep up”. The first question I get is, “What else can I do?”
Sometimes the answer is simple. For a single user working from home, I would recommend AVG Free Edition Antivirus over Mcafee or Norton. I would recommend OpenOffice as a powerful and complete alternative to Microsoft Office It is important to remember that there are trade-offs. After all, nothing is truly free. Many people wonder if there is an 800 number to call if they have questions, but be sure to check the software vendor’s web support page before calling. Open source developers often create forums where others can post comments and ask questions. These online forums and support sites are more helpful than critics give them credit for. With the landscape set, it’s time to discuss ideas for using open source software for your business accounting needs. When it comes to accounting software, I recommend that you consult your accountant before using any of the available applications. When evaluating different accounting software, there are several things to consider. In addition to the basic accounting functions needed to manage income and expenses, the software you choose should also cover your tax filing, inventory (if applicable), and payroll needs. Answering the following questions will help you determine what you need in your accounting application: What type of business are you in? For example, are you a work-from-home consultant, starting a nonprofit, or a retail store with multiple employees? Determining the type and capabilities of your business will help you decide whether you need inventory management capabilities or a professional accounting package for the industry in which you operate. How many employees do you have? Are you going to outsource payroll or do it in-house? This will determine whether you should include a full payroll component in the program you choose. Do you manage inventory? Some accounting applications do not have inventory management. Do you send job offers and quotes? Features that let you turn estimates into invoices and enable progress billing are useful if that’s what you want. Who should keep the records? If you don’t have the skills and don’t have an accountant, you’ll need easy-to-use accounting software. Answering the question “What should I do” is an important first step in choosing the best software for your business. Other considerations before purchasing accounting software are: Is the software you are considering purchasing compatible with your computer’s operating system? Let’s face it, not all software will work well on all computers. If you have Vista installed on your computer and purchased a copy of QuickBooks 2006 from eBay, you will encounter compatibility issues. Can the accounting software you are considering handle your existing data? Compatibility also means you can import old data or upgrade to a new program. Will accounting software grow with your business? Can you upgrade or get additional components at a discount? Note that while many business owners are reluctant to try open source accounting software due to a lack of technical support, many of these applications have fairly robust help sections or access to online support to guide you through the features and functionality of the program. In my experience, most users need support with bookkeeping and accounting, which the software company you choose does not provide.