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Quickbooks: the missing link for small business Linux
Thursday December 16, 2004 (01:34 PM GMT)
By: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller
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Last week I was talking with a small business IT consultant who switches
clients' servers to Linux (and Samba) all day long without any problems,
but finds few clients interested in moving their desktops to Linux. The
reason? "QuickBooks," he said. While there are many small business
accounting packages that happily run on Linux, including GnuCash,
Quasar, SQL-Ledger, and AccPac, QuickBooks dominates this market. And
its loyal users don't want to switch to another package even if it's
just as good as -- or possibly better than -- QuickBooks.
My Click Here
consultant friend pointed out that OpenOffice.org Calc -- the OOo
spreadsheet function -- can handle most small business bookkeeping and
accounting tasks in the hands of a skilled spreadsheet user. But he also
noted that most small business people are not spreadsheet experts. Not
only that, those who use QuickBooks are used to the way QuickBooks does
things and are reluctant to change.
In other words, it's a training issue as much as anything else. The cost
of the software is negligible compared to the time and energy QuickBooks
users have invested in learning the program and its quirks.
Accounting is often the most-hated and least-understood part of a small
business owner's responsibilities. Once he or she finds an accounting
packge that works well, and learns how to use it, he or she is reluctant
to try anything new.
Converting the vendor, not the users
I used QuickBooks publisher Intuit's online media inquiry form to ask,
"'When will be be able to use the words 'QuickBooks' and 'Linux' in the
A week later, I still had no reply.
I checked the CodeWeavers Web site to see if QuickBooks might work under
Linux with their Wine-based CrossOver Office product.
All I saw was QuickBooks Pro with a "Bronze" usability rating, the
lowest of the three that CodeWeavers gives. Other QuickBooks versions
were shown as "not tested."
On the phone, though, CodeWeavers chief operating officer Jon Parshall
drew a slightly more encouraging picture. It turns out that CodeWeavers
uses QuickBooks to do its own corporate books -- on Linux, through its
CrossOver Office product.
Jon said there were "some layout issues" with the program's GUI, but
that "other than minor cosmetics, QuickBooks pro is pretty much
functional" in CrossOver Office.
He also said, "We're hoping to forge a closer working relationship with
Intuit. We have been in contact with them."
The problem is, squashing Wine/CrossOver bugs for a large application
like QuickBooks is both tedious and expensive, and to make CrossOver
Office run QuickBooks flawlessly would cost tens of thousands of
dollars. So far, Jon says, Intuit hasn't wanted to cough up that much
cash to penetrate the Linux desktop market. He raised the old "chicken
and egg" cliche, but it certainly applies in this situation: the ability
to run QuickBooks on Linux would help speed Linux adoption among
QuickBooks's traditional small business user base, but it's not worth
Intuit's time and money either to do a direct Linux port or pay for Wine
customization to exploit the Linux desktop market until it's quite a bit
larger than it is today.
Plus, Jon pointed out, a Wine-based "Quickbooks for Linux" would raise
all sorts of support issues, and "people would call Intuit and yell at
them, not at us," he said. So an Intuit-sponsored, Intuit-marketed,
Wine-based "Quickbooks for Linux" would need to work well nigh
flawlessly; CrossOver Office and free Wine tend to be used by Linux
cognoscenti who are forgiving of small bugs that don't affect a
program's functionality, but Intuit's customer base is less software-hip
than CodeWeavers', and may not think "Don't sweat the small stuff" is a
philosophy they should practice when dealing with software vendors.
Linux keeps marching onto those desktops
Linux desktop use keeps growing, a few machines here, a dozen there, a
hundred across town, slowly and steadily. While highly-publicized
big-company Linux adoptions may not directly affect QuickBooks sales,
they tend to make small businesses think more about converting to Linux,
and every small business that converts to Linux is one potential
customer less for QuickBooks, which also faces growing competition in
the Windows small business space from Microsoft itself.
The funny thing is, Microsoft's sales efforts on behalf of its Magellan
product, which is essentially Microsoft Office with bookkeeping
functionality added, may help tip some QuickBooks users toward Linux. If
QuickBooks is "the" application that's keeping a company on Windows, and
Microsoft's salespeople talk about how QuickBooks can't compete with
their product or how QuickBooks isn't "all that" and can be dumped
without harming a potential customer's business, why shouldn't that
customer also consider other bookeeping software products -- including
some of the Linux ones mentioned at the beginning of this article?
In other words, every negative word Microsoft says about QuickBooks
helps open a door to consideration not only of Microsoft products but
also of GnuCash, GNU/Linux, and OpenOffice.org. And when it comes to
price, these three offerings beat any Windows software combination
hands-down. Even better, they offer freedom from licensing headaches and
possible financial ruin from software piracy accusations.
QuickBooks is not open source, nor does anyone expect Intuit to open its
code base anytime soon. But keeping track of one set of software
licenses, possibly on only a few of a business's computers, is a lot
easier than wading through a 13 page pdf document and hoping it teaches
you how to track every operating system and program in your entire
It's Intuit's choice
Right now Intuit depends on Windows users for most of its sales -- while
Microsoft works to take away as many of Intuit's customers as it can.
Linux-based QuickBooks and Quicken would face no direct competition from
Microsoft, and it would be easy for Intuit to get almost every popular
commercial Linux distribution to include trial versions of their
products in return for commissions on each software sale those trial
The ideal way for Intuit to move gradually toward Linux would be with
browser-based, Internet-capable versions of its most popular products
that could be used through any desktop operating system, and could also
be installed behind a company's firewall -- on a Linux-powered server,
Unfortunately, the current version of QuickBooks: Online Edition only
runs on Windows.
Apparently Intuit believes Microsoft's financial products will never
take away enough of their Windows market share to matter. The people who
developed and marketed WordPerfect and Netscape for Windows held similar
beliefs. You can argue, correctly, that back when these two products
were getting outcompeted by Microsoft Office and MSIE, Linux was not yet
a viable desktop alternative to Windows.
But this is no longer true, and any business software company that
competes directly with Microsoft and doesn't come up with a Linux
alternative within the next year is opening itself to a two-front war,
with Microsoft attacking it from the Windows side while a growing number
of increasingly sophisticated free software projects take away potential
market share among Linux users. And this could be a total disaster for
Inuit, which is already operating in the red and needs to do something
major to become profitable again.
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