The Ideal Small Business Computer
If I were going to set up a brand new box, what would I install for software. How would I use open source to create the ideal small business computer?
So, your desktop machine just crapped out on you and you need a new one. You've been meaning to get a new one ever since that grinding noise started a year and a half ago, but haven't gotten around to it yet. Well, here we go.
Buy a Box
Go buy a computer. It doesn't matter where really. If you're going the Linux route, you might want to avoid getting a box with Windows preinstalled, just so you can say you didn't buy Windows, but there's generally a wait for an empty computer; big stores don't sell them (and they've put most of the little guys out of business), and buying online is probably going to take about a day longer than immediately.
If you're going the laptop route, I've had good luck with the Acers at Staples when I install Ubuntu. Three and counting so far, with no hardware trouble or driver issues. I also like the Staples staff a lot better than somewhere like Best Buy. They let me try a laptop first with a livecd the first time I went in to get a laptop. Best Buy said that it wasn't possible to boot Linux on a cd and just "try it out" without messing up the computer. Some Geek Squad, boneheads. Anyway…
At this point you've got to have some notion of what types of software you'll need for your new small business computer. Do you wan to run Linux? Start downloading an image to burn. I'd recommend Ubuntu, and you can grab it here: http://www.ubuntu.com/download/ubuntu/download If you're going the Ubuntu route, your search for software is pretty much over at this point. Ubuntu is going to come with just about anything you'll need, and whatever is missing can be easily installed. There are what's called Ubuntu software repositories. They're kind of like the app stores for Androids and IPhones, except that EVERYTHING there is a free app. Just hunt through for whatever you need, and BAM!
If you're keeping Windows, the journey will be a smidgen longer. What you'll have to do is familiarize yourself with a place like http://sourceforge.net/. It's a gigantic bazaar of open source software available for windows. Well, it's got Linux and Mac stuff too. In fact, lots of apps have packages for several platforms; if you like something and decide to switch from Windows to Linux down the road, perhaps you won't need to switch applications and you can just keep sailing along merrily.
Apps You NEED
MAIL: Mozilla Thunderbird has been my mail app of choice for years now, and I swear by it still. Filtering is awesome, I rarely get spam in my actual inbox. Profiles are easy to move from one small business computer to another. Regardless of your platform (Windows, Linux, Mac) I believe Thunderbird is the way to go.
BROWSER: Chrome (or in my case Chromium) is my primary browser these days. Firefox was getting a bit heavy, so I gave Chromium a whirl and got to liking it after I figured out the differences. It's got twitter clients, works well with Facebook and Linkedin, etc, etc.
OFFICE: To run a business, you're going to need some tools for getting stuff done. First off, you need an office suite. Need I say Microsoft's Office is expensive? Go grab LibreOffice. It's free and open source, has a big "Export to PDF" button built right in, and opens up most regular MS Office files. Excel macros cause a problem sometimes.
PDF Reader: I've found for Windows that Sumatra (found here )was the easiest pdf reader to use. Adobe's reader is a complete resource hog. There's no need of that. I suspect it's doing more than reading pdf files (like spying on you somehow) but can't say for sure. I get pdf files from ONE person that I can't read with Sumatra. Theirs I have to read with Evince. Whatever…
Particular Apps to Watch
GIMP. It's crazy. I don't know what else to say really. GIMP is like photoshop, in that it's a full fledged image editor with the ability to use layers. I use it at work to create kitchen images and newspaper advertisements. The only problem I've had (and I'm not considered a power user, so take this with a grain of salt) is when a psd file had layer groups. I could open the file and see/edit all of the layers, but they were no longer grouped.
Postbooks by http://www.xtuple.com/ looks like it would be an awesome alternative to Quickbooks. I'm not sure what QB's current scheme is, but however they did it in '05 or so was prone to errors with the backup. PITA, and easy to corrupt. Postbooks (and several other ERP packages) run on PostgreSQL and MySQL, which are very robust databases indeed, tested all across the world by millions rather than in house at QB by just a few people.
Let me know if I've missed any apps. I'm sure there's an open source equivalent to whatever you are currently paying for. Let me know and I'll try to help you find it.