Linux for a Small Business
By far, two of the most popular web browsers are Mozilla (Figure 11)--based upon the same rendering engine as its commercial counterpart, Netscape Navigator—and Galeon (Figure 12), a web browser that sports many of the same features as Mozilla and is part of the GNOME desktop.
In addition to these two browsers, Linux also offers Konqueror, the KDE-based file manager/web browser. Most Linux browsers support 128-bit encryption for secure transactions.
Speaking of transactions, it's usually a good idea to have more than one web browser available. The reason? Web site access. At first, you think a browser is a browser; other than the look and feel, they all do the same thing. Even though it is popular, Mozilla lacks a feature that Konqueror has: changeable user agents.
When you connect to a web site, your browser identifies itself to the server, offering its name, version number and the system on which it is running. Though most web sites are browser agnostic, some will give you a hard time if you do not have a certain kind of browser.
For instance, every time I tried to log in to my telephone company's web site I always had problems. The site never let me get past a certain point. After scratching my head for a while, I remembered hearing reports of some web sites not supporting browsers other than Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
This is where the User Agent comes in (Figure 13). I simply changed my web browser's identity to Internet Explorer 5.0, and my web site transaction went through without a hitch. You won't run into this situation too often, but if you do, try changing the user agent and see what happens. Again, this demonstrates how Linux offers the user many different ways of accomplishing the same task in addition to tools for overcoming proprietary obstacles.
Once you earn your money, you need to keep track of it. Financial software usually fills the need. One of the best-kept secrets of Linux is the open-source accounting project GnuCash (Figure 14).
GnuCash is a robust, easy-to-use accounting system that makes balancing your personal books a snap. And GnuCash's Setup Wizard allows you to set up multiple accounts with different opening balances, simply by answering a few questions and making a few selections (Figure 15).
Although GnuCash sports features of its proprietary counterparts, such as transaction auto-completion and check number auto-increment, it uses double-entry accounting, like professional accountants and enterprise accounting software.
The idea behind a double-entry system is that there is a debit from an account and a credit to an account for each transaction. This way, you know where the money came from and where it went. For instance, if I want to pay for some business-related books, I would debit my savings account and credit an expense account for books (Figure 16). This is an invaluable tool when you need to find out where all of your money went.
What is really nice about GnuCash is you can customize it to suit your personal financial situation. A list of common accounts comes ready-made—expenses, income, stocks, investments—each with its own sub-account structure. However, you also can add your own accounts and delete those you don't use (Figure 17).
Another nice feature of GnuCash is the ability to split transactions, so you can include several debit or credit accounts in a transaction. This allows you to fine-tune a transaction and show every account involved in a specific financial activity.
Lastly, GnuCash has several graphical reports that show at a glance your net worth, your income, your expenses, profit-loss and so on. This alone allows you to manage your finances with greater precision.
Many more features—too numerous to mention here—come with GnuCash, but suffice it to say that for a one-person shop, GnuCash has all of the features you need and then some.
At the time of this writing, GnuCash is at release 1.6.7 and is designed to be used for personal finances. No business features, such as customer and vendor tracking or invoicing and bill payment, exist. But you can customize GnuCash to balance the books for a small business with a little tweaking, as mentioned previously. With the release of GnuCash 1.8, small-business accounting features will be available, including invoicing and bill payment.