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Marcel's Linux Walkabout: Open Source Business Accounting with Quasar

As operating systems go, Linux is pretty sexy. But not everything we do with Linux systems is sexy by default, especially when it comes to accounting packages. That said, the results of all that bean counting can sometimes be exciting to the right people. After all, big numbers showing up in the proper columns make CEOs and CFOs smile contentedly. In this Walkabout, Marcel Gagne explores a powerful Linux business accounting package: Quasar Accounting.
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One of my favorite Monty Python sketches (yes, I am one of those people) involves an accountant visiting a career counselor, looking for a new direction in life. In fact, he wants to become a lion tamer and he's already got a hat with the words "Lion Tamer" written across it. It's a very funny sketch with a punch line that says, "It's sad, but this is what accountancy does to people."

Years later, I still think this is a hilarious skit, but joking aside, it does say that accounting isn't particularly exciting or sexy for most people. That said, accounting is part of the normal and necessary cycle of doing business, even for those of us who would rather do almost anything else. These days, there are plenty of accounting packages available for Linux—both for personal use and for full-blown business needs. In today's walkabout, I'll take you along into the world of Linux business accounting as I explore Linux Canada's Quasar Accounting.

Got your hat? Then let's go.

Introducing Quasar

Quasar is a very much a business accounting package. As such, it offers all those standard features that you would expect under a clean, easy-to-use graphical interface. The package includes a general ledger module, accounts payable, accounts receivable, sales (including multistore support), purchasing, inventory management (including hand-held scanner support), customer quotes, invoice printing, check printing, international currency support, financial statement report generation, and more.

Additional modules are available to expand Quasar's basic offering such as inventory control and management, hand-held support, and multistore point-of-sale systems.

Quasar can be run from a single workstation (as I am doing with my notebook), but it can also run a single server implementation with multiple clients connecting remotely. This makes it ideal for a larger office—or even a small office—where more than one person updates the accounting information (there's also a Windows client program available for download).

Under Quasar's clean graphical interface and functionality (see Figure 1), your data is stored in the database of your choice. What this means, of course, is that before using Quasar, you must have one of these databases installed and running. Quasar comes with drivers for Firebird (a cross-platform, open source relational database system originally based on InterBase) and PostgreSQL, so you'll need one or the other running on your system. Quasar also supports Sybase.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Quasar accounting with the Inventory module selected.

To make things easy, the Quasar Accounting website provides precompiled packages for a number of popular distributions including Fedora, Mandrake/Mandriva, RedHat, and SUSE (as I write this, there's also a slot for Slackware, but there are no Slackware packages yet). Most recent distributions are supported, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding the right package. You'll notice as you browse the download section of the site that there are packages labeled GPL and others labeled Retail (for example, quasar-client-1.4.7_GPL-i586.rpm versus quasar-client-1.4.7_Retail-i586.rpm). That's because Quasar offers a fully GPL'ed version of the packages along with a Retail version. You are free to use the GPL version to run your business, but that version does not come with a warranty or support, and you must agree to the terms of the GPL. The commercial version allows you to connect Quasar to other databases (more on that) that aren't GPL themselves and provides you with support (although you can buy support packages for the GPL version as well). Furthermore, there is a retail-only point-of-sale package that is available only with the retail version.

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