Looking for an alternative to mainstream small business accounting software? We list the five best open source software programs—and their features—for small business accounting.
You can choose from dozens of excellent open source accounting programs for everything from simple basic ledger bookkeeping to invoicing, inventory tracking, point of sale, payroll, taxes, and reporting and forecasting, and this roundup highlights five of the best.
The main thing to remember about small business accounting software is that it’s not magic. It doesn’t turn you into an accountant any more than owning a hardware store turns you into a carpenter, electrician, or plumber. You still need to know the fundamental principles of accounting and bookkeeping.
Small business accounting software has evolved into an amalgam of old-fashioned accounting plus enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relations management (CRM). ERP, in a nutshell, helps you understand the entire flow of your business: what works and what needs fixing or improvement.
CRM helps you identify your most valuable customers, and it provides insight into retaining old customers and attracting new customers. Many small business people keep a good sense of this in their heads, but that’s not scalable or replicable, and viewing the actual data often reveals surprises.
Some of these offerings include cloud options and international support—an important feature as even tiny mom-and-pop shops can achieve global reach, thanks to the Internet. Without further ado, here are our five picks for best open source small business accounting software.
You may already be familiar with the excellent and popular GnuCash. It’s a personal and small business financial application that uses proper double-entry accounting. That’s important because double-entry ensures that you can detect errors and track down their sources.
GnuCash is extremely flexible; the more you learn about it the more you can tailor it to suit your needs. It supports accounts receivable and payable, invoicing, investment accounts, bank, credit and loan accounts, tax statements, reporting, graphs, multiple currencies, depreciation, tax tables and a lot more. It does not have a point-of-sale or payroll module, but you can manage payroll for a small number of employees by manually entering tax and other payroll variables.
GnuCash supports multiple languages. It is free of cost, and to get the most out of it buy the Gnucash 2.4 Small Business Accounting: Beginner’s Guide. It’s an excellent how-to, and the publisher gives a percentage of sales to the GnuCash project. Supports Linux, Mac, Windows; community tech support.
SQL Ledger is a Web-based ERP system for shops that need work and purchase orders, packing lists, point-of-sale, inventory control, check printing, multi-user and multi-location, vouchers, or time cards—in addition to the usual general ledger accounting. It requires both a Web server and an SQL server. Although it supports other platforms, SQL Ledger works best on Linux—which is a more secure system for sensitive financial data.
SQL Ledger comes in two versions: free of cost and enterprise. An enterprise subscription buys additional features like barcode and label printing, invoice consolidation, a payroll module, an integrated editable Help system, and premium email and phone support.
Support alone starts at $130 for a reference manual. Per-incident support costs $140, a year of priority support and other goodies costs $600, and there are several other support options including customizations and import scripts. Supports Linux, Mac, and Windows.
XTuple PostBooks, the core of the excellent XTuple ERP suite, incorporates twelve modules:
- Accounts Payable
- Accounts Receivable
- General Ledger
- System li>
Choose from four editions: PostBooks, Distribution, Manufacturing, and Enterprise. PostBooks is free, and it includes high-end features like multi-user and multi-location, trouble tickets, a task manager, quotes, shipping/receiving, bill of materials, and assemble-to-order configurator.
Annual licenses for the other editions range from $450 per year to $4,500 per year. There are also perpetual license and cloud license options. More money buys more functionality—like capacity planning, asset management and depreciation, drop-ship purchasing and multi-warehouse inventory management.
A good choice for small growing enterprise, XTuple lets you add functionality as you need it. Supports Linux, Mac, and Windows.
Compiere, available in a free-of-cost version and in commercial editions with additional features, includes comprehensive accounting features, plus ERP and CRM. The free version comes packed with so much high-end functionality—project accounting, ecommerce, materials accounting, order management, sales and service, and more—that it may be the only small business accounting software you ever need.
The enterprise edition adds multi-server support, excellent management dashboards, PDF report writer, business intelligence and a Visual Dictionary Editor. This unique feature lets you customize Compiere using a graphical drag-and-drop module editor—no programming required. Compiere also ranks among the best in international support: multi-currency, tax laws, accounting standards, and languages.
Compiere’s professional edition costs $995 per user annually, and there are cloud subscription and other support options. Supports Linux, Mac, and Windows.
Turbo Cash is a full-featured competitor to Quickbooks Pro and Sage. It supports multiple languages and many different countries. It includes point-of-sale, invoicing, reporting and analysis, inventory and stock pricing, barcodes, quotes, trial balance, batch operations, VAT accounting, multi-user and access controls. It’s one of the most comprehensive free small business accounting programs.
Turbo Cash aims for ease-of-use and provides a clean, attractive interface. It’s free-of-cost with commercial support options. You can purchase printed manuals, CDs, and a portable USB version at reasonable prices.
New for 2016: a business edition that costs $50. This version includes a long list of extra features, including a Windows 10-style appearance, online bank import, user manuals, advanced reporting templates, spreadsheet features, and more. Supports Windows only.
Carla Schroder is the author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook, and hundreds of Linux how-to articles. She’s the former managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.
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