Let's get started with a suite of tools that all small businesses will likely need to have access to: A usable office suite.
There is an old saying that goes something like; "Applications make the operating system." Whether you agree or not, the fact is that most businesses feel very strongly that adequate software does matter. And this is certainly true of a modern office suite.
One of the first software suites that a small business looking to switch to Linux finds themselves wrestling with will likely be Open Office, sponsored by Sun Microsystems. The application suite itself is free to use and simple to understand. And with the exception of relying on its own FoSS (Free Open Source Software) friendly file extensions rather than those used by the rest of the world (Microsoft) by default, there is more than enough functionality provided to get the job done for most small businesses.
Open Office version 3.0 is now boasting a number of minor improvements, but nothing that had me too excited. Despite the new release with bundled improvements, the small business owner must learn to contend with a continued lack of
A usable database application the Open Office clone stinks. Slow to load and lacking features found in MS Access, it leaves a number of users wondering how Open Office Base can possibly match up.
A Personal Information Manager (PIM) anyone? Thankfully we have Evolution and Kontact in lieu of something from Sun, but still, it is pretty ridiculous.
Is all hope lost then? Not at all, what with Google targeting small businesses with their Google Apps efforts. This includes a word processor, spreadsheet app along with Gmail, and Google Calendar to act as a workable PIM. Yes, using Google applications, one could effectively outshine most of the speed shortcomings seen with Open Office.
As for an Open Office Base alternative, it took no time at all to discover that Kexi is a great alternative to what Open Office had to provide.
Neither Kexi or Open Office "Base" is going to likely hit a home run with new Linux users who are used to working with Microsoft based office products. But between the two alternatives listed above, at least there is some choice as to which is the best fit for each individual in question.
In either case, office suite needs are well met in today's modern Linux desktop.
Keeping the books in "check"
Without question, bookkeeping is king for small businesses. One can brag about Linux stability all day, but unless you have a viable alternative to Quickbooks, you might as well forget it.
After considering a number of fairly decent open source options, I finally ended up putting my best considerations with a closed source application based on Java called MoneyDance. Impressive from the start, MoneyDance can sync your transactions with US based banks accounts, print checks and manage your finances. The application also does well with enabling you to make better investment decisions with your current investments. Again, helpful for planning out the future of your business.
Now for the big question: can this replace your existing method of accounting? Unlike other designed for Linux accounting software, this MoneyDance has a real shot. It still presents some level of learning curve, but overall is usable for most people as it provides must-have features.