I recently published an article that looked at using GNUCash for personal budgeting on Linux. The comment thread made for a fascinating read – it seems that many people feel that personal Linux accounting is just too painful right now, and opt for Quicken (using Wine front-end PlayOnLinux). One product that was given honourable mention, however, was xTuple's PostBooks-based ERP system. What's it about?
'PostBooks' is pitched as being the 'next step' for small and medium businesses whose needs are no longer being met by Intuit's proprietary QuickBooks system. It includes ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), CRM (Customer Relationship Management), and POS (Point of Sale) functionality - so it's ready to integrate across a whole host of your business' lines.
xTuple's PostBooks-based ERP tool is built using a client-server model, which means that there are few installation requirements on the part of the client – so low-cost machinery can be deployed from the word go, leaving your hardware investment options open. If the mobility-cum-power afforded by notebook computers suits your business, that's possible. If you need to go completely mobile, you can investigate tablet PCs or other mobile avenues. It even supports multiple currencies.
So what is it like to use? It's not a surprise to find that – despite the commercial support from xTuple, whose other lines are not open-source – the interface is a step up in complexity from QuickBooks. It follows the GNUCash model of offering grim functionality with little flair to spare - but that may be welcome to Linux users. After all, there's nothing stopping you going in and editing the source a little to prettify your user interface.
Functionality is top-notch. As a free alternative to QuickBooks, it may be worth investing training time to get your employees up to scratch. QuickBooks charges $2,100 for a five-user license, and hosting fees are accrued annually. There is also no free trial version.
If you're serious about deploying xTuple's PostBooks-based ERP tool – and you'll be joining tens of thousands of similarly-minded folk around the world – you'll need to invest in a server and brush up on your database skills. Otherwise, getting the system running is relatively painless. Documentation for APIs supporting common functions like invoicing and retrieving client information is lengthy but covers all bases, and the C++ (built on Nokia's Qt) code is flexible enough that you – or a skillfully-selected contractor – can tweak parts to your enterprise requirements.
The final thing to speak of here is the company support. Understandably, xTuple do not offer anything beyond some initial video tutorials – which are relatively perfunctory, leaving a steep learning curve – along with the official documentation. However, the PostBooks community is rapidly building on its already-sizable user-base. xTuple offers forums and a blog, and there are many other routes to finding information (including unofficial fora and IRC channels).
In conclusion, xTuple's PostBooks-based ERP tool is a hefty piece of kit with a not-insignificant initial time investment required. Being able to use it on relatively mobile computing units such as notebooks and tablets provide an extra layer of financial flexibility. However, if you're capable of getting off the ground – or willing to outsource to a team that can – you leave yourself free of licensing and proprietary trappings. You also get to feel the warm fuzzy glow of supporting the growth of the Free Software movement.
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.