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Running a Small Business on the Linux Platform? 89

WinDOOR asks: "As part of a small-mid sized family business, finding a way to rid ourselves from the dependence of using Microsoft products is a very daunting challenge. I've been searching for a good Linux based ERP/CRM software that's adequate for use with about 20 or so users and that can handle light manufacturing and POS type order inputting. I've looked at Compiere, but consider the Oracle tax to be one and the same as the Microsoft tax. We don't have the money nor expertise to design our own solutions like the big corporations that have switched sides. What packages or vendors have you had the most success with? Is Postgre or MySQL an acceptable database backend? Is there a viable replacement for MS Access yet? What language would be best to learn if I had to create my own solution? Do CS Students do this kind of work to pay the bills?"
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Running a Small Business on the Linux Platform?

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  • For databases both postgres and mysql are two great database backends. they are both free and open source, and both have stable ports to windows.
    mysql is a faster database in general compared to postgress, but postgress supports more advanced queries than mysql. so both databases are evenly matched.
    • Not anymore (Score:4, Informative)

      by Safety Cap ( 253500 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2004 @11:39AM (#11092580) Homepage Journal
      PostgreSQL 7.4 is very fast. 8.0, when it goes gold will be even faster. The main difference if that PostgreSQL is primarily designed for people who know how to normalize their data and want to take advantage of the DB engine to do most of the heavy lifting/ensure referential integrity.

      MySQL, on the other hand, is great for quick-n-dirty setups, but lends itself to poorly designed solutions that are a bear to maintain.

      Bottom line: learn about data normalization before you do anything. If you're building something that will be extended and maintained over time, use PostgreSQL. If you're building a throwaway app, use MySQL. If your throwaway app will turn into a production system that will have to be maintained, use PostgreSQL.

    • Re:both (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Spudley ( 171066 )
      For databases both postgres and mysql are two great database backends. they are both free and open source, and both have stable ports to windows.

      And you see, that's the point of the question.

      He isn't looking for a back-end - he already knows about MySQL and Postgres. What he's looking for is a quick-n-dirty front-end designer like Access.

      Access is a horrible DB. But the reason small companies use it is because they can design their database, draw their input forms, and have a working application, custom
      • Re:both (Score:3, Informative)

        by Seraphim_72 ( 622457 )

        Why Yes there is. Open Office [] will create beutiful front ends for databases just fine, and it is a whole lot less work than hiring some CS student to set it up for you than hiring one to bring a custom solution on line. Also, though I have never used it extensively DBDesigner [] is a good access drop in from what I can see.


  • by parvenu74 ( 310712 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2004 @11:33AM (#11092521)
    I don't know about the ERP/CRM angle, but wouldn't Berkeley DB ( be a viable alternative to Access for easy data storage?
    • I don't think that I would put "Berkeley DB" and "easy data storage" in the same sentence. Real-world use of bdb requires non-trivial application're not going to be able to slap something together like you can with Access. It works great, but it can take some effort.

      I've only used the C API, and maybe some of the available wrappers (perl, python) make it more developer friendly. I wouldn't recommend bdb as an answer to this guy's scenario.
  • by theoddball ( 665938 ) <theoddball@gm a i l .com> on Wednesday December 15, 2004 @11:41AM (#11092598)
    ...I can say that Linux and FOSS in general have been a godsend for my development.

    We've got ~30 users, and our main business is data entry for financial / real estate transactions. That adds up to a lot of database hits, and a lot of data, period, for such a small shop.

    Our main database server (which was recently deployed) runs Fedora Core 3 and Postgres. Setup was a breeze, and it's been rock solid. Postgres has a lot of the features you'll see in higher-end databases (PL/pgsql is similar to Oracle's PL/SQL). The main thing it lacks, IMO, is built-in auditing support. It does have a richer featureset than MySQL and some things that are better suited to business needs.

    Our implementation uses httpd & php as the client interface. Report generation is done via PDF or postscript. PHP is relatively easy to pick up and seems to make for relatively fast development, too.

    I can't speak for CRM/ SCM uses, but for our moderate demands, Linux+Apache+PHP+Postgres gets it done quickly and quite cheaply.

    • And that just answers the questin doesn't it. []
  • There are many applications (pgaccess, Rekall, phpPgAdmin, dozens more, even OpenOffice!) which will grant you drag-n-drop style access to your database, whatever it is. This is the essence of what makes MS-Access attractive.

    PostgreSQL, MySQL, ibFireBird are all good as back-ends. It's almost certain that the first two shipped with your Linux distribution.
  • (Score:3, Informative)

    by mrholyschmidt ( 792343 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2004 @11:44AM (#11092646)
    OpenOffice can connect to both MySQL and PostgreSQL to save information. It also has form editors which look very much like those in MS Access. Its the closiest thing I've encountered on linux to an Access clone.

    The trickiest part of using the whole thing is getting the connection set up to the database, and a simple google search will give examples of how to do it.

  • Don't do it! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Captain Kirk ( 148843 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2004 @11:45AM (#11092652) Homepage Journal
    Running a business is hard enough with moving into software development. Find off the shelf packages that meet your needs and concentrate on what you are good at.

    And there is no replacement for MS Access. IT professionals rightly hate it. But if you are paying salaries, a database that is quick and easy to set up, that anyone can make forms and queries in is waht you need. BUT, move to a SQL backend as soon as is possible and just use Access as a GUI.

    • I whole-heartedly agree.

      Even if you use a bigger database (Oracle, mySQL, MS SQL), you can always connect an Access frontend to the database directly and even use your existing reports.

      I did just that when I switch from using an Access-based bug tracking system to using Mantis. I connected to the database, made a view with the proper fields and all of my reports worked beautifully.
    • OpenOffice has an Access clone built in. It's not a seperate application, but is available from within all of the main applications. Looks and feels almost exactly like MS Access.
    • Re:Don't do it! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Spoing ( 152917 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2004 @02:02PM (#11094300) Homepage
      1. And there is no replacement for MS Access. IT professionals rightly hate it. But if you are paying salaries, a database that is quick and easy to set up, that anyone can make forms and queries in is waht you need. BUT, move to a SQL backend as soon as is possible and just use Access as a GUI. you will likely agree with this;

      The problem with Access is that it's not portable and much of the business logic is in the GUI. Usually, the databases are thrown together and not documented...making maintenance a real juggling act. A special place in Hell should be reserved for the original creators of this tempting beast.

      • A special place in Hell should be reserved for the original creators of this tempting beast.

        i'm pretty sure they have a Deluxe Suite already reserved for them.

    • Actually, with the release of 2, there's going to be a nice open source "Access killer" type database in the package.
      I've been playing with the preview, and it works very much the same as Access.
  • That's funny (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2004 @11:50AM (#11092708) Journal
    I'm surprised an open-source project like Compiere is so tightly wedded to Oracle. (They seem to have had it working with PostgreSQL and backed off from it.)

    I can't imagine this is the first guy to consider Compiere but be reluctant to commit to Oracle -- who do they think their likely customers are?

    • The main developer is ex-oracle IIRC. He is hesitant about moving database vendors as he makes additional invisible liscense money from oracle on his support.
      • That's what I'd figured (although why mess with PostgreSQL at all, then?). I'm still not sure it makes sense, though. The people who want open-source ERP aren't going to want to run it on Oracle. It's like when Microsoft tried to sell Windows NT for Alpha.

        Adding support for free databases and making money from consulting seems more lucrative, but what do I know.

        • "It's like when Microsoft tried to sell Windows NT for Alpha."

          Well, the problem there was demand for the Alpha, not for Windows. Windows just delayed Alpha's demise a bit.
    • Why not deploy Compiere on open-source Oracle-Mode Firebird []?

    • The Compiere have a page [] all about how they'll port the product if paid to do so.
    • It looks as though someone's having a go at porting Compiere to MySQL here []. I haven't tried running what they've produced so far, though.

  • You might give OpenMFG [] a look. I have no business affiliation with them but I know the CEO personally. They use the postgresql engine as a backend and as a former employee from, I can say the database is up for the task. Their application is geared more for the manufacturing market, but it is open source. If you can make it work without support, more power to you. Knowing there is commercial support available could make using it more attractive if your business depends on it.
  • Some cs students will do these kinds of things to pay the bills but you had better make sure you make it worth their time. Before you contact a cs student you should also make sure that you have clear goals marked out so that whichever cs student you aproach is able to see that he will be DONE with the project at a certain point. $150 for a days work is not bad. The problem comes when the customer nickles and dimes the cs student to death with all sorts of extras for the next week.

    As far as what to actualy
    • Re:cs students (Score:3, Interesting)

      by llefler ( 184847 )
      Give him clear requirements and let him do his thing.

      Realize that CS students most likely know absolutely nothing about your business (and in many cases, any business). They may know the latest and greatest language to hit the Internet, they may only know the languages they are being taught in school. Be very clear about what the software needs to do, how it is accomplished, and what goals need to be met. If you are going to pay someone to build this for you, get a book on system analysis and design and d
      • I recommend you take an entry level software engineering course. You have also taken things i have said out of context. anyways, this is about what i expect from /. but this is why i don't post often enough to deal with this crap.
        • If that bothers you, you are entirely too sensitive about someone not agreeing with your opinion.

          I don't believe I have taken your statements out of context. You're basically saying; figure out what you want, give it to an inexperienced CS student to complete unsupervised, and be prepared to pay well.

          And then in your reply, it appears to be a thinly veiled personal attack, making the assumption that I know nothing about software development. BTW, look up engineer. I've never met a true software 'enginee
  • Compiere (Score:3, Informative)

    by llefler ( 184847 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2004 @12:13PM (#11092952)
    A company is working on a Firebird modification called Fyracle [] that will allow it to integrate with Compiere.

    I have to wonder if you aren't looking for the wrong solution though. Enterprise Resource Planning, for a business your size, is kind of like fishing with grenades. Sure, it will get the job done.....

    Wouldn't something like GNUCash with a POS add-on and a inventory database pretty much cover everything?
  • by GiMP ( 10923 )
    Try Knoda [] for managing your database and some RAD tools like Eclipse or KDevelop.

    Another pair which might work very well at a reasonable price are KDE Studio Gold and Data Architect from theKompany []

    YMMV - I've had no experience with any of these programs. I develop with dia, vim, and a command-line SQL client.
  • To me, this sounds like a perfect opportunity for your firm to hire a bright and energetic CS student as an intern to write CRM software for your firm.

    An intern is less expensive than someone with a degree and if you take a little time to look you can get someone who is very qualified.

    Especially if part of the job is "develop and release a GPL'd CRM-lite package that can sit atop any SQL engine".

    That's the kind of project that could help your student intern make a name for himself as well as make a produ

    • Re:Opportunity (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Spoing ( 152917 )
      1. To me, this sounds like a perfect opportunity for your firm to hire a bright and energetic CS student as an intern to write CRM software for your firm.

      Noooo!!!! This is so frustrating I can't stand it!

      Why do people still think that making a one-off, custom developed app is a good idea -- at the end of 2004? There are plenty of good tools out there -- ERP and CRM included let alone other information systems -- that either work as-is or can be adapted. This isn't 1990 anymore folks! Use !@#$!@$ GOOG

      • I have to concur.

        Especially taking SECURITY into consideration!

        It is easy to quickly hack a CMS, but if you're a business, security has to be a top priority (even if you don't care about your clients info, your system will be intended to inlcude vital company info, that you don't want your competition to have access to). Using an existing app, you can build on their experience....

        Just my 5c worth (sorry, aussies got rid of the 1 and two cent piece ;) )
  • If you need CRM then SugarCRM might do the trick.
    LAMP based and from what I hear easy to setup.

    • Yes. I've set it up within my current company and for other companies when people need a quick solution. After you've done it a time or three, an install can take as little as 15 minutes.

      The only down side is that the system does not support table prefixes, so if you're using a hosted solution with a limited number of databases, you might have conflicts.
    • Is Postgre or MySQL an acceptable database backend?

    Postgre? It's called PostgreSQL [].

    And to answer your question, it is an acceptable RDBMS for a small business.

  • How about SQL-Ledger (Score:3, Informative)

    by recjhl ( 840587 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2004 @12:37PM (#11093253)
    From the Debian description:
    A double-entry accounting program written in perl
    Accounting data is stored in a SQL Server, for the display any text or
    GUI browser can be used. The entire system is linked through a chart
    of accounts. Each item in inventory is linked to revenue, expense,
    inventory and tax accounts. When you sell and purchase goods and
    services the accounts are automatically updated.
    With the assembly feature you can build manufactured goods from parts,
    services and assemblies. When you sell assemblies all the accounts
    linked to the individual parts, services and assemblies are updated
    and stock levels adjusted accordingly. If any item belonging to an
    assembly is changed all assemblies are updated as well.
    Invoices, Packing List, Income Statement, Balance Sheet, Sales and
    Purchase Order, Statements, Receipts and Checks are generated from
    templates and may be changed to suit your needs. Templates are provided
    in html and tex format. The tex templates are processed with latex
    to produce postscript and PDF documents and can be sent to a printer,
    displayed in a PDF viewer or sent out via email ...
    See [].
    • Coolness! I have a working implementation of Compiere right now but I still find it rather cumbersome and very difficult to customise. (Not impossible, but a *%^&^% PITA).
      I will definitely have to check this out!
    • I'm using GnuCash but will switch to SQL-Ledger next year. I would love to start a POS system (maybe Java or GTK-based) that feeds into SQL-Ledger. They have POS as well, but it is web based and I don't want to customize perl or use their command APIs. The backend is PostgreSQL but more important seems very simple considering everything SQL-Ledger can do.
  • The CRM field is crowded with open source tools...some excellent, others horrid, some promising but not there yet.

    If you give me some idea what you really need it would be more possible to answer your question.

  • True, it has Oracle-specific hooks...though that doesn't mean you have to use Oracle.

    Come on: Spit it out! What are you looking for?

  • I've been researching situations like yours as this is an area I focus on for the analyst firm I work for. I can offer you some suggestions to help and a few stats. We have an evaluation tool FOSS Evaluation Center [] for ERP and CRM systems, as well as others with a combined total of about 7,000 functional criteria. We recently launched a new system (though we're still working out some kinks and refining it) to compare how vendors support these criteria but giving a priority advantage to the ones that support
  • The functionality of SSA ERP LN ( will be everything and more that a manufacturing organisation needs. It is database independent so will grow as you do and it supports Linux and MySQL. Open source ERP is nowhere near proprietry ERP - yet.
  • SugarCRM (Score:4, Informative)

    by V. ( 1057 ) <nathan@nathanvalentine.3.14org minus pi> on Wednesday December 15, 2004 @02:45PM (#11094896) Homepage

    I've been looking for a CRM solution for my company, Venn Technologies, Inc. []. IMO, the best Open Source CRM out there right now is SugarCRM []. I covers the basics at least. It doesn't have hooks for issue tracking and billing just yet but they are working on that. Currently, I'm evaluating SQL-Ledger and GNUCash for tracking the financials.

  • Access (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2004 @02:50PM (#11094952) Homepage Journal
    Most people (detractors AND advocates) seem to miss the point of Access.

    For quick and dirty solutions made by non or semi-technical people, it provides a simple, highly integrated environment covering ALL of the following areas: database management (storage), forms data entry, query building, reporting, scripting.

    Access has some horrible weaknesses (the database engine is practically suicide for any important application). Equivalent and arguably superior open source solutions exist for every single piece of functionality Access provides. Therefore it is quite possible to put together a suite of tools that is far superior to Access as a whole.

    However, getting each piece up and running and familiarizing yourself with it takes a certain amount of time and effort, as is especially the case with most open source software. Multiply it by everything you need to make up the whole suite, and most people will not bother unless they are professionals at creating datbase applications.

    That said, if you are reasonably conversant with SQL, and don't have fancy reporting or validation needs, I think a lot of the kind of simple form entry and data retrieval tasks could be handled by Zope with the appropriate Zope extensions (products). You don't get a fancy query builder or report formatter, but on the plus side you have a three tier application that requires only a browser to operate.
    • simple form entry and data retrieval tasks could be handled by Zope with the appropriate Zope extensions

      That's what I thought until I tried to research that possibility and discovered there's about a zillion of 'em and 99% are half-baked crap.
      I think Zope is awesome but I don't have the time to roll my own billing front-end from scratch or finish (re)writing somebody else's.
      If you have any recommendations for specific extensions please post 'em!
  • I'm all for F/OSS in the workplace. However, if you can't afford to roll your own core business applications (as well as the ability to support and maintain them), you don't have much choice other than buying the shrinkwrapped stuff. Want to use ADP's PC Payroll? You're stuck with the Windows platform (desktop and backend). If you want Linux desktops and Windows desktops, you either have to hire or train staff to support both. Much of this doesn't make financial sense. Furthermore, if you've got your

  • Have you considered something like []
  • Been looking in to this area lately and here are some of the options I've come across:

    Lots of activity for the last few months

    For smaller enterprises

    Open Accounting :
    Current ly seem to be in the middle of a rewrite

    Callisto : html

  • How is the GNU Enterprise [] project coming along?

  • At Linux Canada's Quasar. It's a nice piece of work that will handle most of a businesses needs and can use postgre or mysql for the backend. I looked at this issue last year for a start up, that didn't. Quasar had everything we needed except payroll. It has inventory mgt, POS, reports, a good package at a reasonable price.

"Yeah, but you're taking the universe out of context."