Open Source Small Business Software

The proprietary software industry is pretty entrenched, at least here in the U.S. In spite of this, there are folks who have utilized open source small business software anyway.


February 8, 2018

Are you even looking for it?

How many people are even aware that there are alternatives to things like Windows, Outlook, or Quickbooks. I’ve met many business owners who have had no clue. I can’t blame them really. Running a business requires their attention in all sorts of places. New software is usually low on the to-do list.  Open source small business software, unfortunately, isn’t something you might just stumble across over the course of a normal day. You’d probably need some kook like me to show up and give you a sermon. I personally discovered open source when I was a stay at home dad, a bit of a calmer situation than running a business.

Switching to open source small business software

Conversions by small businesses from proprietary to open source software are probably few and far between. Some of this is because proprietary software salespeople are liars; they’re paid commission for each sale and have families to feed, so I can understand.

Practically, the business’s data itself might be a stumbling block. There is so much critical data tied up in proprietary applications that small business owners are scared of “cutting the cord.”  Many proprietary software companies have the data locked down in such a way that a small business can’t switch without much gnashing of teeth. Some companies, the one I just left included, are all about “the cloud,” meaning that business owners don’t even have a server in the building any more. Once they stop paying monthly support fees, they’re all done accessing their data. What if they need a particular purchase order a couple years after switching to an open source app? Too bad.

Support might cause a problem too. Small business owners are nervous when they don’t feel like there’s anyone available should something brown hit a fan. I’ve got a post about open source software support if anyone is interested in a rundown.

But data and support are generally problems in bigger, more expensive applications. There are other situations where business owners can swap out some applications without causing mass hysteria. Here are a few open source applications that look and feel similar to their proprietary counterparts. They are ideal for use with small business, but any home user or large corporation can utilize them too.

 

Open source small business software: web browsers

I’m sure most of you have heard of Mozilla Firefox. Firefox (it was called Firebird way back when) was one of the first open source apps I ever used. But there are others you can try.  I’ve actually found a list recently with some entries I’d never heard of over at bettertechtips.com if you’re interested. I personally don’t use any Microsoft products. I also try to avoid Google products when I can as well. But there are a few others I’d trust on that list.

Open source small business software: email clients

Mozilla Thunderbird has been my email app of choice for years. The biggest reason was how portable it is. If I was using Thunderbird, then my profile (and all of my mail) was in one handy dandy location. I remember Outlook Express’s mail and settings being in a couple or three different locations, and it was a PITA to backup and restore email in the event of an emergency. If I couldn’t boot to Windows and wanted stuff in OE…  Good luck.

Thunderbird has no such issue.  If you can’t boot to Windows, just grab a Linux live cd and copy the Thunderbird profile off somewhere with the rest of your documents before you do the wipe/reinstall process. It’s also possible to copy a Thunderbird profile from Windows to Linux.  There’s a profiles.ini file you might have to edit (Windows sticks things an extra level down in the file tree I think) but that’s about it. In Windows newer than 7, there’s an Appdata folder in your C:\Users\yourname directory. Thunderbird profle data (as well as most other apps) is in one of the three subdirectories (Local, LocalLow, or Roaming – I’d start in Local)

I’m not too familiar with what else is out there for cross platform open source email applications. One of the things you might need is something compatible with Microsoft Exchange. I’ve used Thunderbird with ExQuilla, and it worked very well for email. I had a hard time getting my Lightning calendar going reliably. Evolution, on the other hand, appeared to work well all around with the same Exchange account. There’s no active Windows version though, so I was only able to run it on my personal PC, not my employer-provided laptop.

Open source small business software: office apps

This actually got a bit more interesting lately…  I’ve been an OpenOffice user since around when Sun Microsystems open sourced the code. I happened to be looking into office software (to replace MS Ofice 97) and didn’t want to steal Microsoft’s version again. While I’ve swapped horses once or twice (to Abiword and Gnumeric) I end up back. I’ve since moved to LibreOffice, along with most of the Linux community, after Oracle pissed off the OpenOffice developers and community.

Full and total conversion to open source small business software is not something business owners spend much time considering. But once you open the door, there’s this whole other, cheaper and generally more reliable, world of software out there. There are several applications that you can grab a hold of and implement right off the bat. This is despite what proprietary software companies tell you.  

Give me a shout if you need a hand.

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