30 Aug 2012

Accounting on Linux: why GNUCash might make sense for your home or business

Linux has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. Many companies are now thinking about making the move to Linux, but the lack of compatible software is still proving a barrier. But is it really all that difficult? For example, what kinds of solutions exist for accounting on Linux?

GNUCash. Offered free of charge and open-source, GNUCash is the premier accounting software available for all manner of Linux distributions. There are even cross-compatible versions for Windows and OS X. The only thing missing is mobile versions. GNUCash includes useful and natty features such as Double Entry, which balances account debits and credits to make sure the sums add up, and Scheduled Transactions, which allow recurring or future transactions to take place automatically.

GNUCash also supports multiple currencies and a host of advanced features that make it suitable for small business use. Invoicing is a breeze, and check printing is available in a range of official check types.

A quick note here: if you are printing large amounts of invoices or checks, it’s worth paying close consideration to the kind of printer you’ll be using. Evidently, checks and invoices only need to be printed in monochrome, and large numbers of prints necessitate the use of a laser printer - which uses efficient toner instead of ink - to keep costs down. A high-quality mono laser printer fits the bill perfectly and is available from almost all office stockists as well as direct from manufacturers online.

If you're still concerned about GNUCash's utility as a replacement for, say, Quicken, there is extensive documentation to support deployment. From user manuals to walkthrough guides, the documentation has few omissions. For those that are left pondering a very specific quandary, there are the traditionally well-attended and expertise-rich forums moderated by users that can answer almost any question in a pinch.

So who is GNUCash for? Well, it's pitched as being for 'personal' as well as 'small business' use, and that (to my mind) limits it to accounting for around 30 people. There is – at current – no real accounting alternative for larger businesses, which perhaps contributes to slow adoption. However, for small businesses as well as individuals, it's a great package.

If there's one thing that GNUCash falls down on, it is simplicity. The user interface (UI) is hardly pretty, and it's also a bit overwhelming for the novice user. While the documentation is happy to walk you through the various functions available, there are clearly improvements that can be made to create a more accessible program.

GNUCash is not the only accounting software available for Linux, but it is the most widely used and the most fully-featured. That's doubly important when using the open-source OS: not only does widespread usage typically yield better support and updates through official channels, it also expands the number of forum users who can offer a more informal route to seeking advice.

In the Linux world, that's a big deal: users tend to be savvy and well-educated, and genuinely interested in the welfare of other Linux users. That's something you can't necessarily get on the commercial OSes - that 'club' feeling, and people who are happy to look after you. It's that - the body of people willing to devote time and energy to an ideal - that defines the Linux community, and makes accounting on Linux a viable, cost-effective and ethical alternative for your home or business.

Joanna Stevenson studied mechanical engineering in London, and currently works for an energy research and consulting firm. She enjoys writing tech and business articles in her free time. She aspires to be an intrepid tech and gaming enthusiast with the exploratory spirit and witty prose of her favourite author of Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island for the tech world.


  1. I have tried every Linux/open source personal finance program I could find. I have to agree with you they are not user friendly, especially for someone new to Linux to start. I ended up using Quicken on PlayOnLinux. Hopefully one will come up with a user friendly ledger\checkbook type program.

  2. I'm a Linux user and accountant. I somewhat like GNUCash, but think of it as for those who have taken accounting classes and grasp it. I can start from transactions and build an income statement and balance sheet from those with blank paper and pencil. Most users who will start using GNUCash from scratch should be able to do the same.

    Or to be used in a job where someone else has already set it up for the specific business uses.

    All that said, I haven't seen the documentation you mention.

  3. I am a linux using accountant. I use SAP at work so I know user unfriendly :-)

    I used quicken years ago and do not did not think much of it then.

    I will try gnucash to see none the less.

    In general, seems systems are way so over featured that too much effort is required to even do simple things..

    have a nice day.

  4. Too bad it doesn't include a POS. If it did, I would use it for my small business.

  5. I strongly suggest using the online service FreshBooks.com as an OS agnostic solution to most invoicing and accounting needs. Where GNUCash tries to be familiar for the Quicken/QuickBooks crowd, FreshBooks is geared towards giving the user the features they need without adding in all the extraneous stuff that most users don't need.

  6. The application space is changing in that respect. In most larger companies I have been in touch with, they have been changing to web-based centralized systems. GNUCash is more of a project for a company of a size where a few people need access to pull the info and work on it.

    As for the personal ledger/checkbook program mentioned by the first commenter: I did the Danish translation of wxBanker a while back - it is very nice for these basic functions:
    Not sure if it is available for anything besides Ubuntu, thought.

    On the subject of POS: An acquaintance of mine wrote a rather promising review of LemonPOS - http://lemonpos.org/ - a little while back. I know that he was impressed with the POS part, but I am not sure how it ties in with any accounting systems.

    1. LemonPOS is good for little market POS, but does not have any accounting feature.

  7. As a Linux software developer it was embarrassing for me to acknowledge I was still using Quickbooks on Windows for so long. When I finally gave Windows the boot it was easier for me to learn the ins and outs of Libreoffice Calc and write my own bookkeeping system than learn GNUCash.
    Many Linux users are settling for online webapp offerings which look nice but suffer on functionality, plus being only for those in fully developed countries with stable internet.

  8. One package that is definitely worth a look is xTuple's PostBooks. It's in use by everyone from mom-and-pop shops to companies doing 10,000 transactions per month. While it's not web based, it is easy to use and free, and it also covers Customer Relationship Management and Enterprise Resource Planning.


  9. My father, who was an accountant, used Quicken for his personal finances. After reading a book on Quicken that my father had purchased, I was still unable to figure out how to use the software, even though I had basic accounting courses and professionally support an A/R system. As an Ubuntu user, I discovered GNUCash, found an online tutorial that covered the basics, and now use GNUCash to keep track of my personal finances. Unfortunately, that was about five years ago and I no longer remember the site.

  10. The article writer is "incorrect" to say state that there is no other alternative to Quickbooks than GNUCash.

    PostBooks from Xtuple.com is not only a viable alternative to Quickbooks, it possesses features not available in Quickbooks under any circumstances - like metadata and files stored in a very robust and powerful PostGreSQL SQL database, integrated CRM, multi-profit centre, inherently multi-user, runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux/UNIX, exceptional security features, with many other extensible capabilities.

    And it is Free/Open Source Software (FOSS).

  11. For a personal checkbook/register style solution that operates somewhat like Quicken and MS Money I like KMyMoney. It is very user friendly and has a good UI for a personal checkbook/register. It will also allow for scheduled transactions, reminders and importing of bank statements. http://kmymoney2.sourceforge.net/index-home.html

  12. I was digging in my head for the name of a system I reviewed a while back, webbased: [url=http://writtenandread.net/phreebooks/]Phreebooks[/url]. It is now called Phreedom.
    Designed to do accounting on sales of products and services.

  13. I was the first entry in this post. I stated GNUcash was a bit much for personal finance and for a Linux newbie. It is probably great accounting software, but not what I was talking about. I looked for open source and the two I liked the most were KMyMoney and Money Manager Ex
    KMyMoney can be gotten from Sourceforge and is cross platform. The one I liked best and would have used if I had not got Quicken going on PlayOnLinux is Money Manager Ex
    It can be downloaded from Softpedia, it is cross platform and Softpedia has the.dbe file in 32 and 64 bit for newbies.
    My one gripe on these are you have to enter your transaction in a dialogue box and then that enters it in the ledger. I want direct ledger entry like Quicken. It might seem petty, but that is what I want. If you want opensource I would recommend giving one of these two a try.

  14. I have used every Linux/open reference individual fund system I could obtain.