Open Source Small Business Accounting Options
Edoceo Imperium: Open Source Online Accounting
Fans of open source software know that the lack of a slick homepage and big marketing budget doesn’t mean the solution isn’t as good as the proprietary offerings. Imperium, from Edoceo Inc., is a freeware solution that delivers basic CRM, job tracking, invoicing and accounting features for small businesses. Imperium aims to keep your critical business and financial data in one place, rather than in "silos" that might or might not offer integration.
Started in 2001, Imperium was initially conceived as a way to track business contacts (clients and vendors), invoices and tasks. Those roots show, as the core of the offering is still its capability to store company, contact and vendor data, along with direct access to complete histories for associated work orders, invoices and notes.
On the accounting and bookkeeping front, Imperium delivers a wide range of features. The heart of Imperium is the Dashboard, where you can see active Work Orders, outstanding invoices, to-do list items and more. The navigation panel to the left of the main interface gives quick access to contacts, alerts, transactions, timesheets, your calendar and email, and tasks.
You can have unlimited accounts, and entering data does not require a degree thanks to Imperium’s simple journal-based transaction entry. Plus, the handy Transaction Wizard records transaction patterns for easy "replay" and data entry later.
Figure 5: The Dashboard Edoceo Imperium delivers isn’t as slick as the graphical views in some for-pay products, but it does contain a wealth of information.
The Account Statements View offers standard statements like Balance Sheet, Cash Flow, Owners Equity and Income (Profit & Loss) statements. Imperium also lets you print tax forms such as Schedule C, E and many others. The Work Orders feature lets you track parts, time and expenses for projects, be they a single job or a recurring one. You can print checks and create invoices from existing Work Orders or from scratch. You can even remotely share data with your accountant.
The downside to this free solution? You have to be comfortable downloading and installing the server component onto a Linux server running the Apache 2 Web server and a PostgreSQL database. After that, you’ll be able to access Imperium from any browser-equipped PC; but the open-source bias continues here, too, with Firefox and Epiphany being fully supported but browsers such as Internet Explorer listed as "not tested." And tech support comes via community forums.
LedgerSMB Offers Accounting and Custom Apps
Also on the open-source front, LedgerSMB is a freeware platform that focuses on accounting and ERP features for small businesses. You get the basic Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable and General Ledger functionality, along with inventory and fixed-assets handling. But the real draw for many is the platform’s customizability. With LedgerSMB you can build a platform to suit your business and integrate with other programs thanks to its open architecture and the army of open-source-savvy consultants and developers.
LedgerSMB began in 2006 as a fork of the popular general ledger software package called SQL-Ledger. The accounting features include General Ledger and journal entry to help you manage your accounts, transfer money between them, and get a picture of the general financial health of your business. The sales tools let you track customers, quotes, sales orders and invoices, while the purchasing side lets you track vendors and create purchase orders.
You also get a contact management area to store customer/vendor orders and other business relationships. LedgerSMB also handles cash in and cash out and lets you write checks, track receipts, and reconcile your books with bank statements. There are even inventory-management features suitable for light manufacturing so you can track goods and services. Point-of-sale and reporting tools round out the out-of-the-box functionality.
Figure 6: LedgerSMB can reconcile your accounting entries with those in your bank statements so you won’t inadvertently miss a transaction.
LedgerSMB offers more deployment flexibility than does Imperium. The LedgerSMB server works on any UNIX-type platform, including Linux, BSD, and Apple's OS X; it has been tested on Windows, although the company states that performance and scalability are stronger on UNIX platforms. The LedgerSMB client can be just about any Web browser, including FireFox, Opera, Chrome and yes, Internet Explorer.
Another popular open-source accounting program is GnuCash. Suitable for personal finances and very small businesses – it's more of a replacement for Quicken than for QuickBooks -- GnuCash runs under GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. And no prior accounting knowledge required here: If you can use a checkbook register you can use GnuCash to track bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses. But unlike your checkbook register, the program is based on professional double-entry accounting principles to ensure balanced books and accurate reports.
When entering data into the register, GnuCash gives you the capability to enter split transactions and mark a transaction as cleared or reconciled. The register also features autofill of entered transactions (handy for recurring entries), and you can display multiple accounts in a single register window and set recurring transactions. The program even supports account reconciliation with your bank statements to spot untracked transactions. A summary bar displays all of the relevant account's balance information.
On the reporting side, GnuCash offers a full complement of standard and customizable reports, including Balance Sheet, Profit & Loss and many others. Other small business accounting features include customer and vendor tracking, job tracking, invoicing, and bill payment, and tax and billing terms. You can even manage payrolls for your employees, and GnuCash gives you a tool to manage your business’ budget so that you can plan your financial strategy.
Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with more than 18 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.
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