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Linux for the Smaller Business

By craigtubby in Technology
Sat Oct 20, 2001 at 02:18:44 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

There have been many stories about Linux on the Desktop and getting large companies to become Linux friendly, but there is one area that seems to have been completely overlooked : the one man band, the small business, the sole trader or the "Mom & Pop" businesses.

If you had the chance would you recommend Linux to these companies, in fact would they be able to run their whole company on Linux "out of the box". I'm not talking just about word-processing and a spreadsheet, what about Purchasing, Accounts, Payroll, Order Processing and Estimating. Can these be done in a Linux only setup, without the main benefit to small companies i.e. cost being lost, or would you in the end have to fall back on the likes of the Sage Suit of programs?

Lets take a few simple scenarios, the first is a shop run by a family, there are 3 people employed in the shop and the owner would like stock to be held on a computer, the owner would also like to automate wages, tax, social security. The second scenario is a private company that owns 4 shops all within a 25 mile radius of the head office distribution centre, again as much as possible would need to be automated, including stock levels at the individual shops and the head office distribution centre. The third example is a design company that has 20 employees which include travelling salesmen and onsite production facilities.

Although the details of each scenario are slightly sketchy, would you be able, in good faith, to recommend that these companies should base their entire computer systems on Linux and/or open source software and what actual software would you recommend?


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Linux setup for a Small Business?
o You're havin' a laff mate! 16%
o Fine for Secretaries, no good for Finance. 8%
o You can always add other OS's at a later date. 6%
o Mostly there, just a few things missing. 36%
o All the way, you can *make* it work! 18%
o How could you think otherwise? 14%

Votes: 49
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Also by craigtubby

Display: Sort:
Linux for the Smaller Business | 47 comments (42 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
Desktop Linux for small business: no way (3.28 / 7) (#2)
by Weyland Yutani on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 05:39:14 AM EST

Advantage of desktop Linux: low cost
Disadvantage: Harder to use and administer

Consider this scenario: the one IT guy quits. It takes months to find a new guy, get him up to speed on the distribution and applications used. Business screwed in the meantime. This wouldn't affect a business big enough to have a whole department, but it would be catastrophic for a small business.

Linux decreases the total costs of a business, but only very slightly. In industries where these margins are tight enough for this to be significant, small businesses can't compete anyway: the economies of scale of a big company win.

I really can't see the small cost savings outweighing the large risks involved.

The only exception I can see is with an effectively one-person company where the guy knows Linux already. In that case, sure.
Spinning my wheels on the launchpad, spitting I dunno and itch

Also... (3.80 / 5) (#4)
by Weyland Yutani on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 05:58:02 AM EST

More people know Windows / Mac packages (MSOffice, Photoshop, etc) than know packages like StarOffice and The Gimp

A small business could well have more recruitment and training problems than a large company. A large company has more resources to transfer people internally, to train them internally, and to recruit them.

A small business would not want to set up its own training department, or divert staff from their existing duties to train a new employee. A large business would be more likely to have training facilities.
Spinning my wheels on the launchpad, spitting I dunno and itch

[ Parent ]

Small companies don;t have an IT person. (4.00 / 4) (#5)
by emc2 on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 06:29:43 AM EST

In small companies with 4 employees there is no IT people, the company hires contractors or freelancers to set up systems and write the necessary ad-hoc applications.


[ Parent ]
Article also mentions a company of 20 people (4.00 / 2) (#27)
by Weyland Yutani on Sun Oct 21, 2001 at 02:39:24 PM EST

Companies of 20 people often have one or more IT people.

Very few small companies use custom-written applications.

Even in very small companies of 4 employees, generally there is one person who does all the "computer stuff", though he does regular business work as well.
Spinning my wheels on the launchpad, spitting I dunno and itch

[ Parent ]

Your .sig (none / 0) (#28)
by Macrobat on Sun Oct 21, 2001 at 03:53:05 PM EST

E=m*c*m*c Honest.

No no no, E=c*m*c. If it equalled m*c*m*c, it would be written E=(mc)2

"Hardly used" will not fetch a better price for your brain.
[ Parent ]

I know you are not going to believe me but ... (none / 0) (#32)
by emc2 on Tue Oct 23, 2001 at 07:27:23 AM EST

Why do you think I put the "honest" after the expression?

Well spotted. You won the prize!

Let me think about next sig-challenge!


[ Parent ]
Make the next one harder (none / 0) (#33)
by mrgoat on Tue Oct 23, 2001 at 09:07:52 AM EST

Make the next .sig challenge harder. I'm pretty sure most people who passed their high school freshman math course caught that error right away.

May I suggest you use a calculus problem? I suck at those! :)

"I'm having sex right now?" - Joh3n
--Top Hat--
[ Parent ]

Sorry... I don't get it (none / 0) (#45)
by mcherm on Mon Nov 05, 2001 at 10:41:22 AM EST

I really don't get what you're saying. I noticed your sig a long time ago, and yes, I noticed the error (though I didn't mention it). But I can't tell what you're trying to imply by "Honest." Are you trying to claim that E=mc**2 is WRONG, and E=(mc)**2 instead? Or are you trying to imply that "Honest." means "I'm not being honest here... this is a trick problem."

I'm really not understanding you here.

-- Michael Chermside
[ Parent ]

Talking out one's ass (refuting a classic troll) (3.14 / 7) (#11)
by regeya on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 07:14:05 PM EST

Advantage of desktop Linux: low cost

Can't argue there. :-)

Disadvantage: Harder to use and administer

Okay, before you make such a bold claim...

1. Harder to use and administer than what?
2. If we're comparing "Linux" and something else, are you going to compare the entire world of Linux vs. some particular version of some particular OS? When you're talking "Linux," are we talking about Debian Stable, Slackware 8, Mandrake 8.1, RH 7.1 . . . what?

Consider this scenario: the one IT guy quits.

An IT guy? At a small business? Please. I work at a small paper and the closest we have to an IT is the editor, and he doesn't know that much more than me. And I'm a part-time puke. :-)

It takes months to find a new guy,

Huh? I also happen to live in a small town, and finding Linux-savvy people isn't that hard. It's easier to find Linux lovers than, say, Mac zealots or a competent NT guy, trust me.

get him up to speed on the distribution and applications used.


Business screwed in the meantime. This wouldn't affect a business big enough to have a whole department, but it would be catastrophic for a small business.

In your artificial scenario (lack of competent Linux users, and the ones who are are slow learners, apparently), yeah, the business would hurt for a long time. In a more realistic scenario, you might have trouble a coupla days. If that.

Linux decreases the total costs of a business, but only very slightly.

What unit of measurement is "only very slightly"? Numbers? And no, do not try to pull the act of sneering, posting "typical Linux zealot" and think that you'll win the argument by getting anti-Open zealots to like you. If you're going to make the claim, back it up.

In industries where these margins are tight enough for this to be significant, small businesses can't compete anyway: the economies of scale of a big company win.

Huh? Big companies I've dealt with don't really care as much about the bottom line as they do about issues like tech support.

I really can't see the small cost savings outweighing the large risks involved.

Assuming your list of risks is realistic, which they aren't.

The only exception I can see is with an effectively one-person company where the guy knows Linux already. In that case, sure.

Makes sense to me; if one wants to run a business, and wants the computer-side to be run on Linux, it'd make sense for someone to be familiar with the OS. Just as it'd make sense for someone to have an intimate knowledge of Windows or MacOS.

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]
[ Parent ]

*Sigh* Here we go... (4.00 / 6) (#17)
by Weyland Yutani on Sat Oct 20, 2001 at 04:59:33 AM EST

I would love to see more Linux machines around. I believe that we are going to see more Linux machines around. Right now there is an overwhelming case for Linux on the server, and excellent cases for desktop Linux on student's machines, and in medium to large companies looking to reduce I.T. costs.

As it happens, I don't believe that any current Linux distribution is an optimal solution for small businesses and home users.


Please remove your head from whatever dark, smelly part of your body you're keeping it. Not everyone who disagrees with you about computers is a troll.

There's nothing wrong with a little bit of Linux advocacy: but Linux evangelists are rapidly getting a reputation as low-credibility extremists. If Linux is going to succeed, it needs to keep a degree of realism in its claims.

It's obvious to anyone with eyes, ears and fingers that Windows is far more moron-friendly than any Linux distribution/desktop combination. (Gosh, it's so much quicker to write Linux than "Linux desktop/distribution combination". I wonder if that could be why people do it?).

Fantasizing that Linux desktop distributions are currently easier for end-users that Windows is not helpful. Neither is pretending that somewhere there's a magic distro that solves all problems.

Let's be realistic in our advocacy. Servers, yes. Power users, yes. But in its current form, Linux desktops are not yet the best solution for absolutely everybody.

You actually made an almost-valid point about costs. I didn't make it explicitly clear enough I was talking about the total costs of running a business, not just IT costs. Even if Linux provides a drastic I.T. cost reduction, the total cost of running a business is only reduced slightly.

As to why large companies drive out small ones in businesses with tight profit margins? I'll leave that to Economics 101.
Spinning my wheels on the launchpad, spitting I dunno and itch

[ Parent ]

We're not saying everyone... (5.00 / 2) (#22)
by tzanger on Sat Oct 20, 2001 at 09:35:57 PM EST

Let's be realistic in our advocacy. Servers, yes. Power users, yes. But in its current form, Linux desktops are not yet the best solution for absolutely everybody.

We're not talking about everybody; we're talking about a business environment where people generally use their computers for word processing, spreadsheet work and playing solitaire.

In that environment, I do believe that Linux is making very large strides. I'm planning on pushing it where I work; we already use Linux for the servers and personally I'm getting tired of reinstalling Windows every 8-14 months as it dies of its own nefarious problems. I'm tired of having to have virus scanning software to protect against macros which shouldn't work in the first place, despite numerous "fixes" and I'm tired of putting up with bullshit like patches that don't work and upgrade after upgrade after upgrade, first software and then hardware to support the new bloat. Hell I'm sick of this and I have someone who does all that stuff for me!

You're right; Linux isn't for everyone. Power users, sure. Geeks, you bet. I also believe it is suitable for almost all generic office environments.

Personally I would love to see Autodesk Inventor and Mechanical Desktop, Outlook (not OE), and some kind of full-featured accounting and inventory management software for Linux. That would complete my office changeover. Pretty much everything else has been taken care of: Word processing (abiword, KOffice and Star/OpenOffice), Spreadsheet (KOffice and Star/OpenOffice), Presentations (both again), email (kmail and a zillion others) and even solitaire. :-) And with new suites like HancomOffice coming out, the future looks brighter all the time.

[ Parent ]
Usability / "Administerability" (4.50 / 2) (#23)
by Weyland Yutani on Sun Oct 21, 2001 at 05:02:57 AM EST

Hey, is there a non-ugly word for "Administerability"?

In terms of ease-of-use, you're right that Linux desktop distros are already good enough for businesses of all kinds.

The relative difficulty with currently existing distros is what some businesses call "administration". This includes troubleshooting, fixing problems, installing and upgrading software, and configuring hardware. With a Windows desktop, the skills needed for basic administration tasks like that are much less. The skills are also more widely available.

Eventually, this will improve too; but in the meantime I think we have to recognize this as an area of weakness at the moment.

Small businesses do have major problems with key people leaving unexpectedly. I think for a businesss to rely on Linux desktops it would have to have at least two people who are comfortable with tasks like locating and configuring device drivers, and installing troublesome software. A business too small for that would, in my opinion, be taking a risk in using desktop Linux. In late 2001, anyway.

Well that's my opinion anyway. Maybe the end-users I encounter are just particularly incompetent though: others might be more capable.
Spinning my wheels on the launchpad, spitting I dunno and itch

[ Parent ]

Linux Administratability (none / 0) (#37)
by tzanger on Wed Oct 24, 2001 at 03:15:08 PM EST

Hey, is there a non-ugly word for "Administerability"?

Administrativeness? :-)

The relative difficulty with currently existing distros is what some businesses call "administration". This includes troubleshooting, fixing problems, installing and upgrading software, and configuring hardware. With a Windows desktop, the skills needed for basic administration tasks like that are much less. The skills are also more widely available.

I'm not so sure here... Yes Windows is easier to get certain administrative tasks completed, clickety-click-click, as BOFH usually writes. However when there is a real problem and you need to get it fixed, even the MCSEs tend to fall down, mumbling something about a reinstall. This is where anyone with a bit of grit and enough enginutiy can usually resolve the problem with Linux. Almost all configuration files are human-readable and there is extensive documentation for almost everything. Failing that, there's IRC, millions of web pages, newsgroups and finally, the source.

No, your average "resident smart guy" won't be cutting through source to find the resolution to the problem but then again, most times the problem is solved by tweaking settings or writing a quick and dirty Perl script. That kind of ability does not exist under Windows and that, Weyland, is where I stake my claim that Linux is easier to maintain. When the shit hits the fan you can get the problem solved without a reinstall, even if you're no kernel hacker.

Small businesses do have major problems with key people leaving unexpectedly. I think for a businesss to rely on Linux desktops it would have to have at least two people who are comfortable with tasks like locating and configuring device drivers, and installing troublesome software. A business too small for that would, in my opinion, be taking a risk in using desktop Linux. In late 2001, anyway.

I would say that all businesses have trouble with key people leaving unexpectedly. I've been slacking but I am trying to keep a documentation system up to date at all times detailling the what, when, where and why things were done a certain way. This system would help any kind of IS department. Face it, if your key Windows guy leaves, you're just as buggered as you are if your key Linux guy does. I don't think it's easy to replace either. Sure there are more Windows smart people around but they can't agree on how to do things. The Linux world seems to be a little different in that regard.

(Vi vs. Emacs, RedHat vs. Debian, PHP vs Perl... these battles will go on forever but the key competencies are pretty much the same.)

[ Parent ]
Administerability (none / 0) (#47)
by sfischer on Thu Nov 15, 2001 at 11:29:08 AM EST

Hey, is there a non-ugly word for "Administerability"?

Try "supportability" or "ease of management".


[ Parent ]

User friendly myth (4.00 / 1) (#25)
by svampa on Sun Oct 21, 2001 at 12:40:39 PM EST

I'm sorry, really sorry, but I don't think Linux disktop is ready for end-user, and I don't think Linux is more user-friendly than Windows

Although there is a myth about advantages of windows in this matter, a lot of people confuse easy and popular.

I see no obvius relation between C: and hard disk, nor between A: and floppy, I don't know why is more difficult to learn that docs are in /home/MyName/docs that in c:\my documents. I don't know why is more dificult to press an icon in KDE than in windows

I agree in a lot of points, Linux lacks office applications, installing a new device, let's say a modem or a printer, is difficult etc.

But it is not the same easy-use than widely known standard in fact.

[ Parent ]
Network externalities (none / 0) (#36)
by cafeman on Tue Oct 23, 2001 at 10:29:11 PM EST

You're right, but only in a perfect world. In a perfect world, each person would start with the company with zero knowledgeand build their knowledge base over time. In this situation, Windows and KDE are largely interchangeable - one metaphor is as good as another.

However, you can decrease costs (by minimising training) by hiring people that already have this knowledge. In this situation, you go with the package with the largest user base. A large user base encourages people to learn that package, as it's what will give them the greatest opportunities at a given cost.

Different shocks can mitigate this (such as disruptive technologies, open standards, etc), but if you've already spent the time learning the "My documents" paradigm (as the majority of people have), it becomes additional cost with little benefit to learn the "/home/user" paradigm. Ergo, it appears to be easier. You're right though, to the extent that one is not inherently more user friendly than the other. That's a qualitative judgement call.

"No Silicon heaven? But where would all the calculators go?"

[ Parent ]
Bingo (4.00 / 1) (#38)
by mami on Thu Oct 25, 2001 at 08:23:59 AM EST


Don't worry, he/she has shown before that he/she has a problem with trolling. Forget it.

Linux evangelists are rapidly getting a reputation as low-credibility extremists

..or may be addicts in denial...

I didn't make it explicitly clear enough I was talking about the total costs of running a business, not just IT costs.

Bingo. Right on the money.

As to why large companies drive out small ones in businesses with tight profit margins? I'll leave that to Economics 101.

Don't. Ask small businesses, who did use Open Source software all around. The failures of small buisnesses have almost nothing to do with the software they use. And almost everything with the legal structural underpinnings against which small businesses have to compete. (don't know how to express that better, am not an Economist, but it's true).

[ Parent ]

Payroll Systems (4.25 / 4) (#3)
by hulver on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 05:53:59 AM EST

Payroll systems are very complicated. I don't know of one for Linux (mind you, I haven't looked very hard). Everything else could be done simply, once it's setup, it will just run and run. Get someone who knows what they are doing and can set backups etc, and you'd be sorted. The only thing you would have to defend against is stupid people. I've seen some small business owners do some really horrible things to their business machines out of ignorance (switching off a netware server every night, without downing it for one). Training is the key there.

There are Linux payroll systems (5.00 / 1) (#12)
by libertine on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 07:21:54 PM EST

You can find a freshmeat.org story on payroll systems here. A google search will give you the following. The one that comes up on Google is Accountix.

The problem I see is that it is still cheaper to run multiuser Quickbooks PRO for small businesses with 5 stores than to run Accountix. QB Pro runs US$ 295 total cost, while Accountix runs US$395-495 per MODULE (multiple modules required).

Now, you also have to update your tax and payroll tables annually. This means upgrading annually from your payroll software provider, or having a means of entering that table data manually (as well as the cost of doing so). QB Pro does it for US$169.95. There is no listed cost for this activity under Accountix, so I figure such activity may be manual- so figure hiring a consultant to do it for you at $100 an hour, probably will take at least a day of work if they have their stuff together.

Payroll and accounting for Linux seems to be scaled to mid and large sized businesses, considering the offerings I saw under freshmeat's story and the searches I did. The free software just isn't there, period. Stuff like GNUcash might be fine for balancing checkbooks, but for accounting that will have to stand up to audits, as well as payroll, I don't see any OSS software that has the ability to deal with annually updated tax tables and such.

I think that it would be feasible to run many aspects of a multisite business on linux or BSD, if you were computer savvy, but for payroll, you will be using quicken or quickbooks if you don't want to lose your shirt. I could be wrong- this is just quick research, not personal experience.

"Live for lust. Lust for life."
[ Parent ]

Armor Systems' Advantage / Premiere (none / 0) (#46)
by Waldo on Sat Nov 10, 2001 at 08:46:19 PM EST

Armor Systems' Advantage and Premiere, both fine accounting packages (I gather -- I don't use them) both run on Unix. I don't know anything about their feature set, or even the difference between the two, but my girlfriend's mother (an accountant) runs them on her network, though on DOS, and she likes 'em fine. I've had to paw through the manual on a number of occasions when figuring out the whole multi-user setup, and there are constant references to making it run properly under Windows/DOS, Novell and Unix. Presumably it would be possible to get it to run under Linux.

-Waldo Jaquith

[ Parent ]
Don't do it yourself (4.50 / 4) (#7)
by pwhysall on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 07:39:22 AM EST

Get a professional in.

A cogent article on the subject, and lots of others can be found at the Automation Access website. (Note. If you find something wrong in one of the AAX pages, don't bitch about it here, email Andrew. He's highly receptive to that kind of thing)

In this game, research is everything; and that means talking to people who have done it before.
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.

My own vs somebody else (4.00 / 2) (#8)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 08:15:49 AM EST

If I was starting my own business I definitely would use all Linux--but I already know it and love it so that's a no-brainer.

If an existing small business came to me and asked my advice, I would first ask them what problems they are having. If their payroll system works, of course I wouldn't suggest "fixing" it. But I might suggest a file and print sharing replacement for their fragile, unreliable NT server.

If a NEW small business came to me for advice, it would depend. On the one hand they could save a lot of startup money by goin Linux (and other free/Free software). OTOH they might spend just as much or even more time getting up to speed. I guess it would depend on how technical they were.

In all cases, If *I* worked there I would push Linux into all places where it would fit, but that's mainly because I hate NT so much (no remote administration--what kind of server is that??)

Play 囲碁
Have to hire one or more programmers (3.50 / 2) (#9)
by ariux on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 09:15:31 AM EST

...to make it work.

If the field gets commoditized, it will grow, because that ensures replaceability for people who leave.

Disadvantage? You have to pay the people.

But advantages? The technology will do exactly what you need; and whenever anything breaks, it gets fixed immediately and predictably.

I'd like to work like this. So many things about the "distant, monolithic vendor" model are bad for both the technology and all the people involved.

Um... Yea (2.40 / 5) (#13)
by DeadBaby on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 07:48:50 PM EST

It'll be great having a bunch of novices setting up default installs of Redhat and putting them on the internet. Better yet, it'll be even more fun when the mom and/or pop part of your idea try to do some administration on otheir systems by themselves.

What a great day it'll be when small business owners learn such terms as "you got rooted" or "you stupid fucker, why didn't you install the patch to fix this local root security problem?

Or my favorite, "You moron, this bug was pathced 2 years ago and you never updated your systems, you deserve to have your small business ruined"

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
This is one of the reasons that I chose Debian (4.33 / 3) (#20)
by ramses0 on Sat Oct 20, 2001 at 03:50:29 PM EST

My first distro was Slackware, installed by a friend from 25 diskettes. Linux is useless without a persistent internet connection, so I soon trashed that partition after he moved away.

Fast forward three years, and I had spent a lot of time reading slashdot and researching the different distributions. I finally settled on Debian (stable) because it has a reputation for never crashing. Stable is the truth when a distribution is blessed by the Debian project.

1) The stable distribution is a known set of software, and it doesn't have software added or removed every month. The current stable distribution is 14 months old, and over the course of that time period has had a total of 117 security updates. (by my count, from http://debian.org/security/)

Since Debian 2.2's release in August of 2000, it is demonstrably more stable and secure in 117 ways. Many of these security fixes are "local exploits", requiring an existing account on the system to exploit it.

2) Security fixes, and only specific security fixes are allowed into Debian's stable branch. This happens automatically with Debian's updating system if you have http://security.debian.org/ as a resource.

With a decently configured Debian box and a cron-job which does an apt-get update; apt-get upgrade -y every night, your box will be as secure as the fine folk of debian can make it.

It's arguable that this is just as easy as keeping MS operating systems secure, but maybe not. Tying it all together, once the initial setup of a debian system is complete, add that entry to the cron table, and your debian system is virtually unr00table. This is perfect for small businesses who can't afford a 'realy' sysadmin.

[ rate all comments , for great ju
Parent ]

Ack ack (4.00 / 1) (#29)
by fluffy grue on Sun Oct 21, 2001 at 07:11:39 PM EST

Don't do apt-get upgrade -y from an automatic script. apt-get upgrade -dy is much better, then every few days manually do apt-get upgrade to see if there have been any updates to apply. You never want to have things get installed without you watching, so that you're at least aware that something has just been broken horribly...
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Misinterpreted branches (none / 0) (#34)
by alder on Tue Oct 23, 2001 at 09:29:11 AM EST

...something has just been broken horribly

It appears that you have described your experience with an unstable branch. There, from time to time, something could be really messed up. Though even unstable, if you watch what you want to update, you'll have all the bells with a very small hassle.

Regarding stable, I have not yet seen a case when it fails to update itself from security using simple apt-get upgrade; apt-get update -y. I would be heartbreaking if you can prove that I'm wrong :-)

[ Parent ]
Why do people assume? (5.00 / 2) (#21)
by dvNull on Sat Oct 20, 2001 at 07:58:51 PM EST

Why do people assume that a good solution for a business doesnt require maintenance ? In a perfect world software wont require maintenance. But this isnt a perfect world and software does require maintenance.

I say in this situation an Open Source solution often provides the best solution. You software licensing costs are down, and the Linux and the BSD systems are well known for their stability and security. Any business big or small should expect to make sure that their systems do well for the task that they are there for and maintain it so that it works properly. They need not hire a full time sysadmin but they can hire one on a contract basis for upgrades and patches.

I contract to small business in my free time and I havent had a unsatisfied customer yet. I charge acceptable fees ($40-$80 an hour depending on the task) and usually try to give a realistic timeframe to do tasks.

I am not saying that a business always ask a contractor to fix their issues or hire a full time sysadmin but the business should care about their systems and should take care of them. After all it IS a core part of your business.

As for people saying you should have installed patch. well you get that from both sides. How about "Only idiots execute vbs attachments" and "To prevent this you should get rid of outlook" ? There ARE issues too when you run Windows or Solaris etc that small business owners may not know and arent technically inclined to fix.

If you can see this, then the .sig fell off.
[ Parent ]
Which servicepack ? (4.00 / 2) (#26)
by svampa on Sun Oct 21, 2001 at 12:52:24 PM EST

I've get this answer serveral times, and updating a service pack is more dangerous that updating a kernel patch, they may crash your system easily.

And non-qualified people don't try to update kernel nor servicepacks

[ Parent ]
possibly easier administration (none / 0) (#39)
by st4rbux on Sat Oct 27, 2001 at 03:31:47 PM EST

I don't think this thread was started assuming that the mom/pop shops would be setting up the systems and maintaining it themselves, they have a local guru do it just as they would with a Windows or Netware small business server. accessing a linux server via ssh or a dedicated dial-in line, you should be able to be able to update the system remotely. of course, you would harden the box before you ever dropped it off at the customer premises, unlike most Windows configurations.

[ Parent ]
Google search, anyone? (4.00 / 2) (#14)
by roystgnr on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 07:49:51 PM EST

It didn't take long to find a few long lists of proprietary and open source business accounting software for Linux. I don't know how cheap the proprietary stuff is or how good the free stuff is yet, however. I do recall seeing one commercially supported open source package earlier this year that looked good... but this may be the product of my fevered imagination, as I can't recall the name or find it on those lists.

To answer your scenarios, I'd recommend Linux in the first scenario if and only if one of the family was already reasonably familiar with (say, a year or more maintaining an often-used copy of) the OS. Although, I suspect in that case no external recommendation would be necessary. In the second and third scenarios, I'd need more information. When I think "design", for example, I think either mechanical engineering (for which I would not recommend Linux-only yet) or web page authoring (for which I would).

as long as it is (3.00 / 1) (#18)
by mami on Sat Oct 20, 2001 at 07:33:47 AM EST

that rare and that expensive to learn the essentials of the OSS desktop and system administration of their Linux boxes for the average Joe, I guess, it won't happen.

Smaller business people have a hands full to do to develop their business, they haven't enough time and money to invest into learning OSS. The only advantage small business owners may in the beginning, have that they can relatively easy find a student who has played around long enough with OSS to help them out. But that's really not a reliable enough solution on the long run either. Small businesses need better customer and technical support than a relatively flaky student in some evening hours.

correction (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by mami on Sat Oct 20, 2001 at 07:38:11 AM EST

...may in the beginning, have ...

sorry should read ...may have in the beginning is that they can...

[ Parent ]

One Word (4.33 / 3) (#24)
by IntlHarvester on Sun Oct 21, 2001 at 05:12:06 AM EST

What Novell used to call the "Channel" -- a big network of corner store retailers who are trained in your product and are pushing it out small businesses in the area. Novell went up-market and Microsoft ships an integrated package called Small Business Server supposedly tailored to these guys, along with training and marketing perks.

Linux could work in this market -- but the channel has to change their business model. Instead of selling a Magic Box, the customers would pay the corner clone store a monthly fee for admin service (user changes, etc) and patching. The local computer whiz (aka the one person who knows how to plug in the mouse) can just worry about desktop config and not the NT server.

One big problem -- the channel has nothing to work with except the man page for bash. There's no packaging, no marketing material, no training. (Well to be fair, IBM did come out with a Small Business Server for Linux, but Lotus Domino is so not a small business product that it's not even funny.)

actually, (4.00 / 1) (#30)
by ragnarok on Mon Oct 22, 2001 at 04:47:11 AM EST

there's a few businesses I know about who contract their services out to small businesse to manage the SOHO hardware and software of said businesses.

Both win - the businesses because they don't have to give a rat's arse about what happens with the hardware and software, they can get on with their business; and the contractors because they have a steady income, and can schedule their maintenance to cover all eventualities.

However, such businesses too often are sucked into the Microsoft trap, and I can think of one without much money - it's a non-profit - that'll be bleeding out of both ends when they are steamrolled into Win XP.

Speaking of accounting packages, and resource management software, there's at least three different packages I know of whose names I can't recall at present - full-featured, admittedly, but written by people in the know, so they could quite easily be adapted to SOHO use. Of course, one happens to be an AS/400 package, but written in Java I think, under the GPL, and the guy does know his stuff...

"And it came to healed until all the gift and pow, I, the Lord, to divide; wherefore behold, all yea, I was left alone....", Joseph Smith's evil twin sister's prophecies
I did have that chance, blew it (4.00 / 3) (#31)
by hardburn on Mon Oct 22, 2001 at 12:47:53 PM EST

I did have the chance to recommend GNU/Linux to a small buisness (my last employer), which was a small, local newspaper. For the most part, deploying GNU/Linux failed there. Part of the reason was my own inexperiance, and part of the reason was a Pointy Haired Boss.

Just as I first came on the job there, this company was first getting a web page set up, installed a DSL line, and an office network (about eight computers were hooked up when I left there). Our first web provider sucked (they had gotten a contract with a guy trying to set up several small newspapers with websites), so I advocated getting away from that host and moving to another host which used GNU/Linux on all their systems. We never had any major problems with the new host; the domain name, web, and e-mail are still hosted with them to this day. Even so, this we had not yet deployed GNU/Linux internaly.

When the network was first set up, all the computers used basic Windows Networking, with all the major files being hosted on a single Pentium 233 MMX system running Win95. This computer was also used for scanning photos, word processing, Photoshop editing, the server for the best printer in the office, and the main layout for the actual newspaper (using QuarkXpress). That's a lot of load on ANY system, much less a Win95 box. Whenever that system bluescreened (which happened at least five times a day), the person working there would yell out "save your work!" and reboot (if the other people didn't save their work, they would not be able to save at all when the system came back up).

The obvious solution is to buy a new system to work as a dedicated system, and I pushed to get one with GNU/Linux. It took a good six months of some VERY annoying office politics to finaly get one, mostly due to the PHB dragging his feet about it. We finally settled the issue during a financial high point for the company, at which time we got the server along with two new client computers.

It took a few weeks for me to figure out how to set up Samba on it (I had never set up Samba before), but eventualy it worked and all was well.

For about a month. After that, strange behavior started to occur in the network. I don't know for sure (and I didn't realize this back then), but I think the problem was that our DSL provider was assigning the IP addresses through DHCP, but it was assigning them on diffrent subnets. SMB is a bloody pain to get working with cross-subnet browsing. Worse yet, we had an odd problem that when a certain Win98 box went down, none of the computers could see each other through SMB. (I had talked to an MCE about this, and he said there is nothing he knew about that would cause the network to fail when an Win98 box went down; WinNT running as a WINS server or browse master, maybe, but not Win98. So there was some voodoo SMB going on there).

I finally did get the client systems to export the server's share by manualy setting the IP address to look for. That worked, but for some reason it was really slow. We got a consultant that knew more about *nix and networking then I did to help us out. He noted that a GNU/Linux SMB client worked just fine connecting to the server, so he did the classic "uninstall-Windows-networking-drivers-reboot-reinstall-drivers-reboot-now-everything-works-fine-for-another-week" manuver.

About this same time, we were starting to max out our 8-port hub and we had to get something with more ports. I suggested we buy a 16-port switch to replace it, but the "expert consultent" said a switch would be overkill, and we should get another 8-port hub to connect it to the uplink port. The PHB heard "switch expensive, hub cheep, work just as well" and that was the end of that.

The network continued to display weird behavior for about a year. The PHB blamed GNU/Linux and said he would give me two weeks to get things fixed, or else he would replace it with that Win2000 OS that he heard was oh-so-stable. I worked really hard during that two week period to get the network running smoothly, and in the end I did it, though the server was strangly very slow. I didn't know what I could do to make it faster. After one week (the promised two weeks was never actualy given), the PHB hired a new consultant to put Win2000 on the server. The boss tried to spin it to me as "an oppertunity to learn about a new OS".

Upon hearing that to legaly obtain a Win2000 license would cost more then the actual server had cost us, he dumped Win2000 in favor of NT 4 (yeah, we're looking for some MAJOR stability here!) Oh, and the new consultant suggested we replace our two hubs with a single switch.

By this time the economy started to hit it's slump and the company didn't have as much money as they used to. They decided to lay off their entire IT staff (which consisted of me) and just let the consultant do the work. I never saw what was the final fate of that poor GNU/Linux server. I assume it got replaced with WinNT 4 and the company is back to a blue screening server.

while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }

One thing: Build on a clean foundation... (3.50 / 2) (#35)
by sergio on Tue Oct 23, 2001 at 11:31:59 AM EST

Take a look at http://www.e-smith.com/ (And the free, but no support, distro at http://www.e-smith.org/) as a starting point for a small office setup on the server side. It even includes a database and an LDAP server.

That is what i do. (3.00 / 1) (#40)
by t3k on Sun Oct 28, 2001 at 12:08:14 AM EST

The very questions you ask is exactly what i am doing. We arent trying to remove windows from companies, just were it makes sense. Everything we deploy is web-based so they view everything through their browser. Doesnt matter what they use, everyone has access. Most of what we are working with is Apache,PHP and MySQL based. Right now there is alot of stuff coming out with this combination but there still alot more needed. All we are focusing on though is Web-based applications for the business sector. There is enough new software coming out every day that it is hard to keep up. t3k Open Source is evolving, What about your company.

No easy answer (3.50 / 2) (#41)
by ennui on Tue Oct 30, 2001 at 11:07:48 PM EST

At this point, you can take many win9x machines, plug 'em into a NAT hub, share drives, and use an ISP for email. If you're happy with some of the not-Office packages out there you can do a lot of that on the cheap. There's not too many smaller businesses that can't get by with Quickbooks, Outlook Express, a web browser, a word processor, and a spreadsheet. Just because you can rig up a machine with Red Hat or whatever and have something that behaves like a server, doesn't mean you have a server.

"You can get a lot more done with a kind word and a gun, than with a kind word alone." -- Al Capone
Linux or not (4.00 / 2) (#42)
by Grimster on Wed Oct 31, 2001 at 12:32:18 AM EST

When a company grows to the point of needing a network and servers of any sort, they're gonna need at least an occasional consultant.

I've done many many small businesses on NT, if all you're doing is plopping files on a central server and sharing a few printers, it's fine, even NT/2K should be stable in this "simple" environment and pushing linux into this environment is probably a bad idea, well, not really, the cost is still there, Server + Linux saves a LOT of money over Server + NT/Win2K so for cost I guess I'd still push linux.

Now add some internet, add some mission critical data, add web, ftp, etc, and I wouldn't even dream of recommending Windows, for that it's Linux/Solaris/BSD/otherNIX or nothing. I laugh anytime I even HEAR of someone putting another Windows computer anywhere NEAR a live internet connection. Even where I worked at (big dot com big dot bomb, laid off now) the Windows guys we had on staff were sharp, very sharp, and we still had NT servers hacked via IIS exploits. They also had some linux boxes hacked but this was long before I came on the scene. Sometimes linux's own worst enemy is consultants/admins who don't really know enough to do the job!

Basically you're gonna need a consultant or part time IT guy anyway, and frankly, I've found that linux guys are not hard to find, so why not use it even in a mom/pop setting?

--- Do Not Click! Grimster
Hmmm... dunno if you'll like the answer (4.00 / 1) (#43)
by Tau on Sat Nov 03, 2001 at 01:02:47 PM EST

My father runs a small consultancy type business from our home. It runs on Linux in some respects; for instance our file/mail/www/database/netgate/etc server is a Debian box (which I have the dubious pleasure of being directly responsible for), and we do do some degree of accounting on it. However, the accounting system that was implemented was a homegrown transaction logging system. The whole thing had to be written from PHP and MySQL up... fair enough for us perhaps but not the sort of thing 'mom and pop' would be particularly inclined to learn how to cook up in their spare time, especially seeing as a web-based finances system isnt exactly an unusual requirement. That and, unfortunately, a VMWare'd Windows 98 plays quite an active role in our business, for the simple reason that we cant really do accounting on our own, so we hire an accountant. This accountant has to exchange data with us. And the rather annoying thing about the names of the files that we get is that they all end in XLS. Now, I know you lot will probably yell 'StarOffice' or 'KOffice' or something, but as far as I can tell I've yet to see an absolutely flawless set of import filters, the best I can see is a set that works 99% of the time. Fair enough, but, and I quote "When you're messing around on your computer, that's all well and good. When you're doing business, however, running a solution where you know there is a 1% failure rate will put you in quite a tight spot the one time where it does fail". I dont think people we work with or the tax office have much sympathy with our lofty ideals of not using proprietary and anticompetitive software products. Clearly such software is in the interests of our economny, I mean, even the department of justice thinks so. Or in other words, "The world runs on Microsoft. Get over it." *rolls eyes* I feel a particular revulsion to using Microsoft software myself, because as of late it even seems to subtly rub in the fact that you have no choice. This is a case in point I guess.

This is SCO territory. (none / 0) (#44)
by zak on Sun Nov 04, 2001 at 08:57:38 AM EST

Historically, this is what SCO have been making most of their money from. The most common type of customer thay have is a small shop or factory, where a single SCO Unix/OpenServer box manages the business (VT100 or such as the user stations).
I've worked for a couple of years in an SCO VAR. The uptime for these things was quite impressive, which is not too surprising since most of the applications were simple COBOL databases or custom made applications. There was usually no packaging to speak of for most applications, just a TAR archive on tape with a simple installation script. Most clients used the system for inventory management, finance or insurance.
I'd guess that for these uses Linux can fit in quite naturally in place of an SCO OpenServer box, considering that binary compatibility is rather good. I've heard from one client a couple of years ago that they'd managed to install their application on a RedHat box with some modifications; however, they had chosen to continue using the SCO solution because it was proven. I believe that Caldera are making all the right moves with their Unix business.
The SCO business has proven to me the strengths of Unix for businesses such as these; the main cost for the customer is the annual support fee (which was not large, and would still be paid to any support company which would take them on, even with a Linux base). The hardware was mostly a vanilla PC clone, with (usually) VT100's attached via a serial multiport adapter. These adapters were usually the first piece of hardware to go if there was any failure - hard disks were always SCSI, and lasted for years.
An anecdote, which I sometimes use to extoll the virtues of using Unix in small businesses: one day a customer came in through the door, carrying his server (an early, crappy 486 clone - the dust inside was a centimeter thick) and a box of tapes and disks. The reason he came in was that his hard drive had failed. Note: this was the first time he needed service in 6 years (the system was more than 8 years old). The business - growing and selling flowers worldwide. The machine had been running all his finance programs, a connection to his bank, and the sprinkler system in all his greenhouses. The system installed was Xenix/386, arguably a very primitive SysV Unix, and was probably only patched somewhere at the start of its lifetime. Reportedly, its only downtime was when the UPS was changed.

Linux for the Smaller Business | 47 comments (42 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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