Telecommuting

I've been working as a freelancer for almost a year now, and I cannot help noticing how free software helps making this possible. Working in an international setting, most of the work is done from my home office. This requires techniques to get the work done. Small motivational "rewards" (or really fun customer assignments so that one forgets lunch...) The other half is the communication with the customers itself. This is where free software enters the picture.

My setup consists of a set of communication tools and a set of (virtual) servers. Let's start with the latter.

My externally accessible server hosts Trac for each customer and project. Currently these projects are versioned using subversion as it is easy to get setup with Trac. However, I'm planning on investigating integrating git and Trac - time permitting.

Oh, I almost forgot - the server runs Linux (Ubuntu) and Apache. This is so natural that it goes without thinking.

The other side of working off site is communication. As you do not share coffee breaks or meet in other social settings it is extremely important to be available through a set of communications channels.

The natural, first choice, of any business is email. I have not actually sent a single paper invoice in years. All goes via email as PDFs.

For shorter interactions, questions and such, I prefer Jabber or IRC. For those using gmail, Jabber is only a click away. Using a client such as Kopete, all these channels can be gathered in one place.

Finally, there is the big gap - voice communication. I have to confess that I rely on an ordinary phone and Skype. The problem is not so much setting up a proper SIP client (e.g. KPhone or QuteComm) but to convince your clients to do so too.

Finally, working from home, it is always good to have access to a meeting room. Something that the nice (and FLOSS-y) people at Gnutiken help me with!

______________________

Johan Thelin is a consultant working with Qt, embedded and free
software. On-line, he is known as e8johan.

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why Telecommuting

martyrsoul_'s picture

mirc indir I wonder what this machine's features ?

RE: J.S.'s A view from a Different Industry

Randy Noseworthy's picture

I wish LJ would interview people like you a little more often. All to often, it think that regular (who ever that is!) people don't relate or see that "normal" non-IT-staffers run Linux. Linux in use on Desktops, in corporate and school settings, that kind of thing.

Another full time telecommuter

Lou's picture

Hi:

I also telecommute full time, even though I am not a freelancer or a contractor. Our company is rather small and sometimes some of the folks have to work remote. It's good to see what people use, Even though I use mostly Windows as my desktop, one important component of my home office is a dual core server running Fedora 11 64 bits. This is because our company ported our main platform to Linux and this is the computer that I use for prototyping and development. Many of the software I use for work have been already mentioned, but here it comes anyway.

- Skype: for communications with my peers and for teleconference.
- GIMP: Mostly to edit my expense reports and scan receipts.
- VirtualBox: To run Windows on Linux and Linux on Windows. (ok, so I need to decide :) )
- TightVNC: It is a lot better than sending X traffic from work.
- Twiki: Group Documentation

As you can see, it is no different than when you are a freelancer. You just do not have to worry about billing, although you still have to fill your hours..

A view from a Different Industry

J S's picture

Most of the comments here are from the IT corner of Business.
For a different spin, I work in Automotive, Engineering parts for the next cars/suvs/trucks you might be driving one day. I run all Linux/FOSS software that most don't know I'm running (unless they see the desktop wallpaper on my Netbook during Impress meetings ... "what's that Ubuntu Linux?").

Mostly I use Ubuntu .. I've run others but the network ease of access is hard to get away from. I run a large GB FreeNAS file and media server in RAID for data storage on a 1998 Pentium-2@266Mhz 128MB ram tower (now try that with Windows or Mac OS).

For Software:
Virtualbox
CAELinux for Finite Element Analsysis (VM for small work, dual-boot for big jobs)
Open Office
Firefox
Thunderbird
Ganttproject (that I have converted my extended team to, as they can load it on Windows)
Gimp
Inkscape
Skype
DimDim / Mikogo (but I can only be client with Linux)

Projects I'm working on:
Web Server LAMP with Wordpress to self-host my consulting sites.
Asterisk VOIP system for the office and home
Media player improvement from geexbox for the house

Newest hardware I have is a 2009 Netbook I use for travel and meeting presentations. The remainder of my regular desktop and server equipment are 3-6 year old second hand or repaired units, plus that 12 year old FreeNAS box (headless and stripped down it consumes far less power than a P3, P4, or newer). Plus I set up one of my clients to use a separate FreeNAS box with ftp to transfer CAD data between globally dispersed teams.

I initially got into Linux because I was tired of losing work on Windows lockups and the hidden costs of Windows (and Mac) as both are geared toward each release migrating you, and your team from 'old' MSOffice to 'the new' MSOffice without backward compatibility, or bloat that forces new hardware purchases. I then appreciated the lack of Viruses and need for hardware sapping anti-virus programs. And along the way I've become a much more knowledgeable computer and software user - and that education is valuable and one of the reasons I'm staying, and advocating, Linux.

I thought the article was

Jebblue's picture

I thought the article was interesting and so were the replies. I learned about some open and closed commercial products I wasn't aware of before.

I thought the article was

Jebblue's picture

I thought the article was interesting and so were the replies. I learned about some open and closed commercial products I wasn't aware of before.

Home Office Consultant here too

JohnP's picture

I'm the IT department for a few companies. I run servers for 2 companies 99% on FLOSS with just a single Windows7 box for Quickbooks.

Most of the Linux servers run under Xen in paravirtual mode.

Zimbra to host multiple email domains on a single server. It includes a jabber-compatible chat IM server in addition to SMTPS, IMAPS. All connections are SSL/TLS encrypted except for server-to-server SMTP where the other side doesn't support encryption. The enterprise calendaring is the killer app for Zimbra. OpenLDAP is the single password store that the other apps use too. If it weren't for the enterprise calendaring, I'd dump Zimbra for pure postfix/dovecot.

Adito for VPN. It is a java-SSL VPN, so almost any platform is supported. Everything but email access goes thru the VPN. Control over which back end systems each user gains access is controlled through it. Most deployed apps are web anyway.

Alfresco for document management. LDAP for auth.

Bazaar for code control. LDAP for authentication.

MediaWiki for internal wikis. Eh. It sounds better than the actual usage indicates. LDAP for auth. Most of the things in the wiki have been migrated to normal DOC files and placed into the DMS/Alfresco.

vTiger for CRM. LDAP for auth. The other popular FOSS CRM choice really isn't FOSS, IMHO. vTiger connected to Zimbra easily. It is helpful to keep track of all the contacts in the pipeline.

dotProject for project management. LDAP for auth. It is better than sharing spreadsheets since most clients don't have MS-Project. It is still a Microsoft world for most enterprises.

For these virtual companies, we decided that unlimited long distance was cheaper than dealing with all the other solutions. We use a free voice conferencing service and DimDim for screen sharing since most of the other commercial services do not allow Linux desktops to host. We tried Skype for conferencing, but since that requires a computer data connection and some of our employees are always traveling, it was determined best to use normal telephones.

A few of us have been using Google Voice for years - we started when it was Grand Central. I can't imagine life without that.

We use VMware, Xen, VirtualBox and have lots of experience with UNIX virtualization over the years. Outside our systems, we perform consulting at client locations helping them design and deploy virtualization solutions to meet their current and future requirements, with an eye on security.

So I guess we don't really telecommute, since there is no central office for the company. We decided that overhead wasn't needed.

So what about billing?

Paul W's picture

We use LedgerSMB for client billing. It does not (yet) have much payroll functionality, but we don't have genuine employees, so that does not matter to us.
We use recurring invoices for fixed monthly bills (like hosting) and we build "projects" for monthly consulting work. We add time cards for each billable "event", then consolidate into a single invoice which has all the right rates and information (as well as any discounts to be applied).
Push button - boom - PDFed and emailed directly to the client.
Can I interest anyone in a box of printer paper?

Redmine instead of Trac

Frank Maker's picture

If you can bring yourself to consider an alternative to Trac, redmine is vastly superior in terms of features, polish and overall quality. I highly recommend you check it out. We use it with our customers and they find it very easy to use. I can very happily no longer use Trac, which feels quite hacky to me.

Comments

axyalms's picture

Hi, im work i have same scenario, VMWARE ESX with a lot of linux hosts, asterisk, for VoIP, Openfire as a JabberServer with Spark as client, also trac and Subversion, we preffer Java + Spring + Hibernate for WEb, and Metro WS Stack :) , MySQL as our RDBMS and i am thinking what an ugly world could be withouth GNU/Linux?, Greets to all linux journal Staff.
Im waiting for my September issue(hasn't arrived yet =( ) i hope ill get it soon

I'm in the same boat

Phoenix PHP Developer's picture

I also work from home, and am predominately a Linux operation. I have about 40 colocated virtual servers that I manage from here, and another 14 servers here at the house. I run Ubuntu as my main desktop rig, with about 3 1920x1200 monitors off it (all off my laptop too which is bizarre). I use FOSS for pretty much everything (I'm a PHP developer and use Firebird SQL as my DB of choice). I run a large UnRAID Server (12 TB) for home storage, Asterisk for my phones (on CentOS), VMWare ESXi with dozens of Linux VMs for web development, testing, etc. Trac for bug & issue tracking, SVN for source management, etc. I run Thunderbird as my main email client, and IRC for communications. I'm thinking of installing a Jabber server for direct client communications, and am about to start testing Google Chat for video chat/conferencing. Oh, and I'm using DimDim for desktop sharing/online meetings, and finally I just started to look at Teamviewer for client support (its not FOSS, but the total purchase price amortises well for me).

If I tried to do all of this with proprietary software, I couldn't be competitive or make a living. Yes, it took longer to set it all up and maintain it, but its exactly what I want. And I also listen to free radio and podcasts all day while I work, which I use a hacked Podget Bash script to grab, reformat/re-encode and archive in the background on my Ubuntu based media server.

Life is good.

Myles

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