When considering moving a Small to Mid-size Business (SMB) client over to GNU/Linux or talking to someone who is considering the same, there frequently is a “but” somewhere during the process. The hesitation is one that is rarely talked about, or one that I have rarely heard; the lack of specialized applications from Independent Software Vendors (ISVs).
According to the Small Business Administration, small firms in the U.S., those with fewer than 500 employees, represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms. There is a lot of business diversity, each with its own IT needs. Part of those needs are industry specific software, which is predominately Windows based.
Nearly every industry has software unique to itself, along with cross industry applications. A brief list of industries with industry specific software include:
Pair industry specific software to cross industry software and there is more Windows based tie in. Examples of cross industry software include:
These examples don’t even begin to touch the tip of the software iceberg. The intention here is to consider the software that companies use every day, software that is normally not thought of. Cross industry software can also become specific. Accounting software, though similar between companies, can target certain markets. For example accounting and inventory software for jewelry retailers, art galleries and janitorial enterprises. Some ISV’s have separate versions of the same accounting application, each targeted at a different segment.
With the advent of the internet and web based applications, businesses are transitioning from platform specific applications to platform neutral applications. That would be the ideal, but it is sometimes not easily attained. Many service providers write their web applications for non-standards based browsers, as you are likely guessing, Internet Explorer, preventing platform agnostic nirvana. While many applications are becoming web based, with SMB’s, the death of client-server computing has been greatly exaggerated.
Mobile computing has small business benefits, which also includes industry unique software. Mobile devices have installable applications, however, there is often a Windows based component that synchronizes with the mobile version. Whether the mobile device collects data and uploads to a database, or an application like a mind mapper that synchronizes with a client application, often it is a Windows based application.
Windows has an ecosystem built up over several years of SMB use. Windows based PC’s are a standard tool for nearly all SMB’s, or the suppliers and services that support SMB’s. What GNU/Linux in the SMB market is lacking is a significant ecosystem of applications. There are tools to provide a method of running Windows based applications, but it is doubtful that ISV’s will support their applications in this manner. An ecosystem needs to be nourished on its own and not fed off of another. As more and more business are able to transition to GNU/Linux based networks, this ecosystem will have the means of becoming self sufficient. Each birth of a new GNU/Linux based, industry specific, application will enable build up of the GNU/Linux SMB ecosystem.
Accounting is one area in which there is a large GNU/Linux presence. With accounting as an entry, as well as standard office applications like OpenOffice.org and Firefox the GNU/Linux application ecosystem is on firm ground. What’s left is to encourage this ecosystem to flourish and to educate SMB’s and ISV’s on the benefits of GNU/Linux based networks for their business. Surely, both will be hesitant to change applications and development platforms, so there is no easy road ahead. Platform transition is not a trivial pursuit, but as more applications are available on GNU/Linux, it is visible on the horizon.