QuickBooks and Linux: A Server Story

By Aaron Weiss | Posted June 28, 2007

When it comes to competition between operating systems, a platform is ultimately only as useful as its applications. For businesses that use Linux servers for their back-end operations – a category now growing by double-digits quarterly according to IDC – availability of applications is often the most significant bottleneck.

As a result, some organizations find themselves in the uncomfortable position of needing to support two back-end platforms: Linux for the majority of network applications, like Web servers, file servers, e-mail and messaging servers and CRM servers, and Windows for anything else necessary but unavailable for Linux.

For a lot of small-to-medium-sized business, the holdout has been Quickbooks Enterprise Solutions. Despite its “Enterprise” name, Intuit has aimed the product at businesses ranging from 50 to 250 people. For many businesses, this accounting server is now the de facto standard for financial organization, but it has been available only for Windows.

But no longer – now you can buy Quickbooks Enterprise Solutions for Linux. Well, with limits.

If you already use Quickbooks Enterprise Solutions 7.0 release 8 or newer, you can download a free Linux RPM archive to install the Quickbooks Enterprise database server. Officially, Intuit has tested the Linux server only on Red Hat Fedora 6.0 and Open SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10.2. Linux gurus stand a good chance of running the server on other recent Linux distributions, although without Intuit’s support.

Can You Say Caveat?
Quickbooks Enterprise Solutions is a client/server product. While Intuit has now released a Linux version of the server, it has not, and does not currently plan to, release a Linux version of the client. This means that Quickbooks Enterprise Solutions end-users still need to access the server from a Windows workstation, with the Enterprise Solutions client installed.

Members of the Linux community are ambivalent about the situation. According to Intuit, Linux has penetrated more widely on the server side than on the desktop. They anticipate that organizations running a hybrid architecture – Linux on their servers and Windows on their workstations – is the larger market right now. It doesn’t hurt, either, that releasing the Quickbooks Enterprise server for Linux is easier than porting the client. The server has, for some time, been built on the Sybase SQL Anywhere database, which itself is available for both Windows and Linux.

Despite the fact that Quickbooks Enterprise, and the people using it, must still rely on Windows workstations, Intuit’s release is being generally regarded as a positive step for Linux. Practically speaking, of course, some businesses will benefit from simply being able to run their Quickbooks database on Linux. But more broadly, Intuit has historically been a very Windows-centric vendor.

Customers have long complained that their only previous non-Windows product, Quickbooks for the Mac, falls far short of its Windows equivalent in features and compatibility. For Intuit to release a Linux version of Quickbooks Enterprise at all -- even if only the server component -- represents a significant acknowledgment that Linux is now a serious player among business customers.

Intuit’s decision to support a platform other than Windows may also have been influenced by Microsoft’s move into the business-application provider market. With Microsoft’s purchase of several SMB application providers and subsequent launch of Microsoft Business Solutions, Intuit and competing business application vendors like Sage are looking to diversify.

What it Means for SMBs
For the small business running a Linux server, all this means new choices should continue to rollout. Eventually. But if you’re a Linux desktop shop right now, there are few alternatives to running Quickbooks Enterprise Solutions on Windows. Some people will no doubt run the Quickbooks client in a Windows virtual machine on Linux. Although this doesn’t eliminate the Microsoft licensing requirements, it can at least prevent duplication of hardware.

So far, nobody has reported success running Quickbooks Enterprise Solutions client under Windows emulation like Wine for Linux. Some enterprising businesses have mused about whether the Linux-based Quickbooks Enterprise server could be accessed by custom applications, thereby foregoing the need to use the Windows client for particular transactions. For example, might you code your own PHP script to query the SQL Anywhere database directly?

Intuit’s answer is no. They certainly won’t support this, and argue that it’s technically not workable because the database can only be accessed through the Windows-based SDK to ensure data integrity and validation. Independent developers don’t seem deterred, but the Linux release is too new to know for sure what progress, if any, will be made.

Quickbooks Enterprise Solutions for Linux is available directly from Intuit:

Although this package is free to download, it of course requires Quickbooks Enterprise Solutions. Pricing for that, including the Windows client, start at $3,000 for five concurrent users and increases in increments of $1,500 per five additional users. Prices include a yearlong subscription to Intuit’s Full Service plan, including 24/7 support, data recovery, training and reporting services.

Aaron Weiss a technology writer, screenwriter and Web development consultant who spends his free time stacking wood for the winter in Upstate New York. His Web site is: bordella.com

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