The accounting suite gap- payroll and taxes

Story: An Open Letter to Linux DevelopersTotal Replies: 13
Author Content

Apr 29, 2005
1:29 PM EDT
My wife runs a small accounting business. Intuit is putting the screws to these people, because they can. Intuit payroll services gets more expensive and supports fewer clients every year. While there are several alternatives for GL,AP etc, I haven't found any for payroll. Don't get me started on tax preparation software. We just forked over around $2K to subscribe to our tax software for 2006. I have to load all this stuff on Windows XP, apply updated religously, and hope like hell that no one's invented a new piece of malware that will download all of her customer's financial data. The market is there if the developers are willing to play to the market, instead of their egos. Thanks for the note, Ken.


Apr 29, 2005
8:03 PM EDT
The market is there if the developers are willing to play to the market, instead of their egos.

Bingo Dave...

Not that I don't appreciate what our developers do, but damn...there are half-assed and half-finished apps laying around all over Linux. I guess the attitude is "whaddaya want for free?"

Lets start with: If your not gonna take pride in what you do, don't start it. sounds kinda blunt coming from a "linux user", but the truth is the truth no matter who it's coming from...or am I out of line here?


Apr 30, 2005
1:42 AM EDT
I agree that there are a lot of "half-assed and half-finished apps" for Linux. It's indeed the main problem of the Open Source development model.

However, such broad complains won't help - I've read similar articles three years ago. Then, it's been about making distros that are stripped down to a manageable set of applications instead of putting 5 different editors into each.

Now, there's Ubuntu; but even they have been unable to avoid Kubuntu. Try to explain the differences to somebody who had just heard about Linux.

However, users can do much more that just write articles: You're looking for a finance and a payroll application? Well, search it! Freshmeat lists 10 applications for the word 'payroll'.

For example, Paymaster ( ) looks cool and useful. An easy-to-use personal finance program is Divifund ( - previously known as MyBudget).

If one of these apps lacks some features, sit down and write a proper review! If it's written well, I think the GNOME journal editors are going to publish it. It will spread the word about the application, increase usage, bug reports, and developer interest.

Or google for 'use cases programming howto' to find out how you can write down what you'd like to do. Study GNOME's HIG to get an idea how these use cases can be translated into user interfaces.

You can even showcase interface ideas by using Glade. It's really easy. All you need is Elijah Newren's tutorial "Developing with GNOME"! Have a closer look at the examples for libglade and python. Once, your first window appears on the screen, the rest is just like working with GIMP or Inscape (ok, nearly...).

Why should you do that? Well, for example, one of the most often requested apps in a popular threat is 'Dreamweaver'. That's rather obvious because a lot of web designers have a LAMP stack running on a seperate box and XP on their desktop because this app is missing.

But most Linux developers never worked with Dreamweaver. They are used to hack the HTML into vim or emacs. Without written down use cases, and a proper mockup, such an app is never going to appear.

And if you get your use cases and maybe your mockup ready, you can ask a developer who made something similar already, such as the guys from Peacock ( ), what it needs to make your dream come true.

The same holds true for payroll applications like Paymaster, personal finance applications like Divifund, or any other software.

Apr 30, 2005
3:49 AM EDT
Well....There's another problem...

A lot of Open Source development these days is not done on a volunteer basis.

Don't get me wrong --- lots is, but lots isn't.

Significant application of paid worker-bees and/or corporate cash has helped things like OpenOffice, Mozilla, Apache, the Linux kernel, and others.

Getting software ready for non-technical end-users often requires things that don't interest volunteer developers.

Money generates interest.


Apr 30, 2005
3:59 AM EDT
Thanks Claus,

Here is the problem. It's no secret that the majority of computer users who use an accounting/book keeping software use one of the intuit products. what is needed is an app that accepts files from quicken/quickbooks as readily as openoffice accepts files from Microsoft Office. You do us a service by pointing out the possiblilities in Linux apps but every one falls short in this one critical area. Therin lies my point. Even the ones that claim to import the intuit files freeze or fail to open them. You recommend that I "search it"? I have tested every linux accounting program in a 4 year period, thus my complaint. Writing articles indeed does some good, as it not only makes my point public, but inspires others as well to write and contact their developers. This open letter has been forwarded to every Linux Developer we could find...whether they choose to pay attention to it is another matter.


Apr 30, 2005
4:56 AM EDT

then I suggest to be more careful the next time you write an open letter. ;) In your article, it says "develop for us a comparable program to Intuit Quicken/Quickbooks".

It didn't say "develop us a library that will enable the import of Quicken/Quickbooks files (or something to convert these files into an open format) ".

This is another useful example why users should study how to write use cases. Your article obviously wasn't a good example how to do it right. ;)

If other users will use this sort of reporting style as a reference, you will just discourage Open Source developers. Check Daniel Veillard's blog on reasons for the burn-out syndrom. He's the maintainer of the very successful libXML, btw.

Concerning dinotrac's comment about money that makes the world go 'round: There's a very nice service called dropcash (although still beta), that smart developers could use to get at least some funding for their work until a proper service is established.

So, if a libquickbookimport library is needed that badly, and you know 40 users personally, collect a set of easy file samples, review if there have been any efforts on this already, and then maybe start a dropcash campaign to get it going.

US$2000 (40 x US$50 on average) is probably sufficient for a helpful Open Source developer in India. If you have problems finding a developer, you may like to check (a commercial service).

A lot of Open Source developers are bad managers (hey, they do it for fun!), but that's something you could do.

Apr 30, 2005
8:09 AM EDT

If you want to have a semantical debate on language use...I'm thinking that this isn't the forum for it. Implied in helios' article is the fact that if something is comparable to Intuit...then it's going to be able to import and export in that format...just like OOo is able to do with MSOffice.

Before you lecture him about the proper way to write, perhaps you should become less anal attentive and understand the implied meanings of sentences and also understand that helios is in no way a Linux developer nor a software programmer.

Helios is a relatively new Linux convert. Keeping this in mind, you asking him to refer to things in the right case comes off as a very condescending comment...almost as if he should try and attain the level of understanding that you have...very bold considering the company you're in here. Most of us have been using Linux for 10 years and have been involved in open source even longer than that.

Apr 30, 2005
9:40 AM EDT
But isn't semantics the heart of coding? As a mostly user/sometime coder, it seems to me that the sort of 'implied' message in the open letter is precisely what leads to miscommunication between users and programmers. I am sympathetic to helios' position, but I think that claus' point is a good one- programmers will respond more positively and more successfully to very specific requests than to general ideas, and often the users (or potential users) are better able to specify real program needs than the programmers are. XP (as in eXtreme Programming) attempts to bridge this gap in understanding by constant 2-way communication, and that seems like a useful strategy _when_it_is_available. Otherwise, we must rely on either 1) coders being interested in and knowledgeable about a particular application (thus the plethora of lovely OS development tools) or 2) potential users learning to specify their needs in terms coders cannot misunderstand (because if we can, we will).

I would encourage helios to write a review of his favorite program (relatively speaking), including specific recommendations for new features and bug fixes which would make the program a viable alternative to the comparable Intuit software. Some programmer(s) may realize that writing an OS alternative to very successful 'unfree' code could lead to a very lucrative consulting business, or they might just like the challenge. And it might be good business for Helios, too.

Apr 30, 2005
10:29 AM EDT
A really good start in communications with developers would be coders who respond to "I would like Feature X" with "Hmm, that looks useful, let's discuss it" instead of "You are wanting the wrong thing."

Apr 30, 2005
10:48 AM EDT
Helios, you are right on that providing good tools for migration is the number one need for moving users to Linux. Most users these days already have years of computer data archives. They are not going to walk away from those. Finances are especially sensitive- users tend to be insecure about money anyway, and unwilling to change software without a really good reason. (Of course Intuit provides all kinds of reasons- winduhs lock-in, spyware, forcing upgrades by crippling functionality, messing with data formats to screw up exporting to other apps.) Financial records need to be accessible and usable for many years.

Claus, don't assume that people have not done their homework and already searched for and tested apps. I'm rather tired of being told "just search Freshmeat" when I whine about needing an app with a certain feature set. Searching Freshmeat is like gold mining- you're lucky if you get an ounce of gold from a ton of dirt.

You know what else? People like me and Helios spend a lot of time searching out and testing apps. It's a sad truth that there is a lot of resistance to user input and needs in the F/OSS world, there's still that old "if you're not a programmer you're nothing" attitude. I'm tired of developers needing to be forcibly whacked to get their attention. Smart developers solicit user feedback, they don't try to discourage it. Assuming they really want people to use their apps, that is, and find them pleasing and useful.


Apr 30, 2005
11:17 AM EDT

in my experience, one should never rely on 'implied meanings'; not in discussions about contracts, about volunteer efforts, or any other stuff.

For example, I didn't wanted my comment to imply I'd like to 'lecture' helios in any way. I share the position in his article: As a user, switching to Linux may be a strong commitment. In such a position, you watch the announcements on freshmeat about just another editor, email client, database GUI, audio player, image viewer, etc. differently.

cabaniss expressed it better than me: Most problems result indeed from miscommunication. Is it a too high expectation that somebody writing an article accepts a critic that he didn't write clearly?

My comments were meant to be hints (or suggestions) to helios to get his ideas or wishes organized, that's all. I still have the funny idea that somebody else may contribute more suggestions how the user-developer communication problem can be solved.

I didn't want my comment to sound condescending! I apologize if that was the case.

Apr 30, 2005
7:03 PM EDT
Cabaniss said, "programmers will respond more positively and more successfully to very specific requests than to general ideas"

In a perfect world...we would never have to worry about general statements.

In a perfect world...If a golf ball was flying at someone's head on the golf course, they would just exclaim, "There is a high velocity golf ball flying at a 78 degree angle toward your head at 157 +/- 2mph that will make contact in 3.3 seconds...dip your head at least 3.3 feet to avoid this collision!!!"

In the actual world...If a golf ball was flying at someone's head on the golf course, they would just exclaim, "Lookout! Golfball!"

You'll never get new users to be so detailed and technical. Perhaps if programmers cared enough to ask specific questions and took the time to listen to the answers...and if they were general answers to ask better questions that would extract more specific answers...then we'd be in a better place.

Helios did an awesome job of bringing up his ideas. If a programmer doesn't have enough interest to ask him what the hell he means...that programmer doesn't need to be programming. I would be ashamed if I saw this post and it dealt with my program. I'd be all over Helios to try and track down where I went wrong. But hey, that's just me and I'm only a secondary programmer and a Network tech primary.

May 01, 2005
4:45 AM EDT
A last note. :)

1.) dthacker started the discussion by pointing out there's no payroll application. According to freshmeat, there are ten payroll applications.

2.) He also said, there's no proper tax software. Well, there's no open source way to solve this because tax laws change very often. It's impossible to keep up about such changes with volunteers.

3.) helios said, there are problems with Quicken file import. I have no experiences with Quicken, and I never meet anybody using it here in germany.

Unfortunatly, I got the idea to google for a problem description just today. According to what I found, Quicken seems to be able to export into CSV files. However, it seems to use the QIF format which seems to be an open format. This leaves me slightly puzzeled: What's the problem with getting the data converted?

4.) Helios said in the article, a quicken replacement is needed. For double entry users, there's GNUCash or Quasar Accounting (GPL with additional proprietary apps for taxes (!) and POS). For personal finance, there's Divifund or Moneydance (a proprietary Java application).

Once more, this leaves me slightly puzzeled: Why do we need another Quicken replacement? Is this one of these "We need a Photoshop copy because The GIMP sucks" requests?

I've seen similar requests in the GNOME user forum: The ex-Mac users complain about the top menu not being the only one, and the ex-Windows users complain about the default existence of the top menu. You can't satisfy both groups.

5.) tuxchick said, I shouldn't assume people have not done their homework. Well, then why did we need to talk about points 1.), 3.) and 4.) ?

Now, I'm not a developer but a user. When I have problems understanding what the problem is, what do you think, a real developer will be able to do?

Additionally, there are a lot of users, and a lot of them write requests: How would you feel, say, after two years of getting complains or requests such as these?

Now, as long as problem descriptions are that hard to understand, Linux as a platform won't be more successful on the desktop. As long as it isn't successful, popular apps such as Quicken, Photoshop, or Dreamweaver won't get ported, and problem descriptions remain hard to understand. Looks like another nice catch22 situation. ;)

May 01, 2005
2:26 PM EDT
Claus, I'm getting confused - it still sounds like you don't want to believe Helios or me or anyone who says that the F/OSS world does not provide adequate software to meet all of our needs. Like we're just too dumb or lazy to know what we are talking about.

Yes, there is a lot of great F/OSS software, and a lot of it is superior to what can be found in the proprietary world. But there are some large gaps, and that is the plain truth. Developers who ignore user feedback are ignoring both a valuable source of information, and the fundamental principle of F/OSS- community involvement and support. The best software comes from coders who listen to users- Moneydance and Quasar are two great examples. Even so, as good as they are they are not right for all users. Linux users are not looking for just a Quicken clone- we are looking for a rich assortment of competing products to choose from, both personal and business. In the Windoze world there are several versions of Quicken, many versions of Quickbooks, Peachtree, ACCPAC, and dozens more. It is not a simple problem, and it won't be solved by telling people to search Freshmeat. And it's not like we're demanding free-beer- I support F/OSS projects financially all the time, and I know I'm not the only one.

I'm kind of wondering what your (in)ability to understand the problems discussed in the article has to do with a developer, or anyone else, understanding them?

I agree that it is not possible to please all users. But ignoring users, or denying that the problem exists, is not going to work.

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