Linux in the Real World - Linux in Small Business

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Often a small business can consolidate the Web services it needs into one or two Linux servers. It can meet its basic office computing needs with mature open source applications such as OpenOffice.org, GIMP, and a Firefox browser. But can a small business run entirely on open source software alone? When Jim Nanney started his Coast Grocery business (www.coastgrocery.com), where residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast can order groceries online for delivery, he set out to do just that. In part, he just wanted to see if he could rely solely on open source software. But he also figured that cost savings of at least $10,000 by not buying commercial software could help make his small business profitable a lot faster.

To allow customers to order groceries online, Jim selected the open source e-commerce software called osCommerce (www.oscommerce.com). The osCommerce software is built with the PHP Web scripting language and uses a MySQL database. Jim runs the software from a Linux system with an Apache Web server. On the office side of the business, Jim relies entirely on Fedora Linux systems. He uses OpenOffice.org Writer for documents, GIMP and Inkscape for logos and other artwork, and GnuCash for accounting. For Web browsing, Firefox is used. So far, there has been no need to purchase any commercial software.

Here are some of the advantages that Jim has derived from his all–open source business:

• Community support—The communities surrounding osCommerce and Fedora have been very helpful. With active forums and 24-hour IRC channels, it has been easier to get help with those projects than with any proprietary software. Also unlike proprietary software, participants are generally quite knowledgeable and often include the developers of the software themselves.

• Long-term security—Jim disputes conventional wisdom that betting your business on proprietary software is safer than relying on open source. If a software company goes out of business, the small business could go down, too. But with open source, you have the code, so you could always pay someone to update the code when necessary or fix it yourself.

• Easier improvements—By doing some of his own PHP programming, Jim had a lot of flexibility related to adding features. In some cases, he could take existing code and modify it to suit his needs. To create a special shopping list feature, he found it easiest to write code from scratch. In the process of using the software, when he found exploitable bugs, he submitted the code fixes back to the project.

• No compatibility problems—On those occasions where he needed to provide information to others, compatibility has not been a problem. When he makes business cards, door hangers, or other printed material, he saves his artwork to PDF or SVG formats to send to a commercial printer. Regular documents can be exported to Word, Excel, or other common formats.

For businesses starting on a shoestring, in many cases open source software can offer both the cost savings and flexibility needed to help the business survive during the difficult start-up period. Later, it can help those same businesses thrive, because open source solutions can often be easily scaled up as the business grows.

Source of Information : Linux Bible 2008 Edition

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