The past few weeks I've been scouring the Internet for open source business accounting packages on Linux. I wouldn't quite call it a dearth of choices, but for something that's so important for small business, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of mature options, either.
It didn't help matters any that any search for accounting on Linux also includes system accounting tools. Not quite what I had in mind. Then there are also personal financial management software like GnuCash and KMyMoney. Yes, they're accounting packages, strictly speaking, but they're not what I had in mind, either.
I wouldn't quite call my search finished, but for now, I've settled my evaluation on two applications: SQL Ledger and Quasar.
SQL Ledger is a web-based application that uses Apache, Perl, and PostgreSQL for its backend. Its developers bill it as an enterprise resource planning package, and it does contain many of the critical functions that a small business needs. At the same time, it looks to be a very active project.
What it seems to lack for the moment is a workable point-of-sale component that's compatible with a cash register. It's also written in Perl -- not my most favorite language -- and therefore I'm slightly worried about the comprehensibility of the code.
While the SQL Ledger software itself is free, its manual is not. That, instead, is what you have to pay for. Not a very palatable option, in my view; and there seems to be some conflict with other developers resulting in the fork of SQL Ledger to Ledger SMB.
Still, if my accountant friends like SQL Ledger, its something I'll probably consider.
My second option is Quasar, a client-server business accounting package written in C and Qt. At first glance, it actually looks similar to Quickbooks and MYOB. Many of the critical small business functions are also supported. Best of all, there is a POS component which works with the present POS standards.
LinuxCanada, makers of Quasar, offer the single user version of their product for free. You only have to pay if you want to support multiple users. Using their POS client does qualify it as multiuser, though; on the other hand, the charges seem reasonable enough.
Quasar has two things going against it. First is the interface: it sacrifices simplicity for flexibility, and therefore, there's a lot of screens and detail to go through. It can get a bit confusing. It doesn't make it easier that you have to manually refresh a list every time you need to retrieve from the database.
Second, and more worrying, is that the last update of Quasar was in July 2005. It makes me worry about the future of the company.
On the other hand, the source is available, though. Drawbacks aside, Quasar does look to be a good product; I hope it survives through the open source community.
Others that I have yet to evaluate are:
* Ledger SMB
If there are other suggestions out there, I'd love to hear it.