Getting the Job Done
TUX's Editor in Chief previews what you can expect in the May issue.
by Kevin Shockey
While preparing the upcoming issue of TUX and researching some information for this article, it struck me that the small business market could be incredibly important for desktop Linux. As Doc Searls has been telling us for years now, the information technology market is moving towards a do-it-yourself approach. In that respect, no market is more do-it-yourself than the estimated 5,591,003 small businesses located in the United States.
Small business owners often work as salesperson, accountant, janitor and whatever other job position might be required, including information technology administrator. Due to the limited personnel typically employed in a small business, the owners must do whatever needs to be done, even if that means installing and maintaining all of the initial software on their desktop computers. Linux, with its scratch-your-own-itch mentality, should fit well in this environment. But so far, it's not.
I believe there are two main reasons why Linux is not catching hold more in this seemingly perfect target market. If you'll permit me a little whining, the first reason I simply call indoctrination. In Puerto Rico, where I live, there are three primary drivers of new business creation. First are the universities that produce graduates who use free student licenses for Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows during their education. The second driver is the Small Business Development Center, which offers advice and seminars on business creation. It also offer discounted licenses for Microsoft products. The third driver is a business incubator that recently received a $250,000 donation by Microsoft, of which over 90% was in the form of--wait for it--free licenses for MS products. Although this may be the situation only here in Puerto Rico, I believe it is a common reason why new and small businesses don't use Linux. The business owners are used to other products, products that are familiar to them, their family and their friends. Because these products are familiar, small business owners continue to use them as their businesses grow. Often, it's more a matter of comfort than need.
The second reason why more small businesses don't use Linux is a lack of applications. Specifically, there is a lack of Linux support for popular business applications, such as Quickbooks, AutoCAD and Photoshop. To be sure, Linux and open-source alternatives to these application are available. But, if a business requires prolonged use of these applications, the training and business process change costs involved are too large to make the switch to Linux feasible. These companies will never switch to Linux if these specific business applications are not ported to Linux.
Thus, the only way to get more small businesses to use Linux is to get them to start their businesses with Linux. We need more business incubators that introduce Linux and open source to new businesses. We also need the Small Business Administration and its affiliates to begin teaching entrepreneurs about the value that free and open-source software can offer. Most young companies need to pinch pennies to make ends meet. Spending their precious resources on licenses that expose their businesses to spyware, malware and viruses doesn't seem like a wise use of that money.
Did you know that small businesses employ more than half of the estimated 110 million workers in the United States? That's got to represent a lot of desktop computers. Because large companies have such a high volume of desktops, they tend to steal all of the attention when analysts examine corporate IT purchasing and usage patterns. It is clear to me, however, that although marketing and providing services to the small business community is more complicated, it is a rich target market for desktop Linux.
Education is part of the process of helping these institutions understand the value of Linux for small businesses. With this goal in mind, we're publishing the first Small Office/Home Office issue of TUX. Available on May 1, the issue focuses on introducing a variety of applications that are useful to a small office/home office (SOHO) businesses. The feature article introduces AppGen MyBooks as a potential replacement for Quicken QuickBooks. Almost all self-employed or small business owners must manage their finances closely, and MyBooks offers a mature and reliable application for financial tracking and accounting.
For those businesses producing their own newsletters, TUX introduces Scribus and FSpot. Scribus is a desktop publishing software application that offers sophisticated control of text, graphics and photographs. To collect and manage the photographs needed for those newsletters, we examine FSpot. FSpot is a photograph management tool written in Mono, the Novell open-source implementation of the Microsoft .NET Framework. It offers many slick tools and features, including automated photo capture from your digital camera, minor photo editing, keyword tagging and photo export to CD/DVD or Flickr.
In addition, the SOHO issue introduces a variety of applications that might be useful for some small businesses, but perhaps not all. FreeMind is a utility that helps with generating, visualizing, classifying and structuring ideas; it also can help with problem solving and decision making. For those wanting an alternative voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service, we introduce OpenWengo and compare it with Skype. We also compare two project-planning tools that help create work breakdown structures, manage schedules and track employee utilization. Finally, we take a first look at Firestarter, a communications application that enables Internet connection and firewall protection for Linux.