It all started with a call to the Intuit Canada support. After a somewhat long wait in the caller queue, I finally got this:
Intuit Support: QuickBooks support. How can I help you?
Me: Hi. I have a problem with my QuickBooks program. All my data are screwed up somehow. The program just got crazy and cannot simply sum up the numbers. It shows wrong numbers in the transactions and when I try to open a transaction to change it then a wrong transaction is opened.
Intuit Support: What version of QuickBooks do you use?
Me: It is quite old, the 2002 version of QuickBooks Pro.
Intuit Support: Unfortunately we do not support versions older than two years, so you need to purchase the latest version.
Me: I understand that. So what would be the upgrade price?
Intuit Support: We do not have upgrade price. You need to pay the full price. It is only $199 for the latest QuickBooks Pro.
Me: So I need to pay $199 for the latest version. OK. Just one thing, you know we are a small company, I mean really small. We actually use very basic functionality of the program. Do you have any discounts for the small companies?
Intuit Support: Unfortunately we don't, but we have an entry level version available for only $99. You can consider buying that version.
Me: Actually the only reason we purchased Pro version was that we needed the multi-currency support. Does that $99 version support multi-currency?
Intuit Support: So you need multi-currency... It is great you mentioned it now. Unfortunately the latest version of the QuickBooks Pro does not support such a feature anymore. If you need multi-currency then you need to pay extra for a special multi-currency edition.
Me: Wait a second. Do you mean that the latest version of the program that we use now has less features than the old one?
Intuit Support: Yes, we changed our QuickBooks product line and the latest QuickBooks program does not support multi-currency anymore. Are you interested in buying the multi-currency edition now?
Me: No. I am not...
I hung up. Something was really wrong here. You know that feeling: you just know that it would be wrong to buy the damn thing. First of all the price is just wrong. It is year 2008. Paying more than $200 for a little desktop program which keeps track of some simple transactions is just wrong. Doing that every two years is simply stupid. Then I got a pretty strong feeling that the new program will not import my screwed up, old data correctly, so in any case I would probably have to start my accounting from scratch this year.
I thought it is the perfect time to look at my options. I googled for QuickBooks alternatives.
Yes, there are some alternatives. I felt somewhat more optimistic. I spent the next two weeks investigating the options.
The detailed report on my investigation would take too much of your time. Let me summarize only two of the dozen solutions I came across. One was GnuCash.
GnuCash is a free, open source money management program. I loved the free part of it. I never thought that my alternative for the QuickBooks could be free. In fact, it can!
Another good argument for GnuCash was this page written by Herman Oosthuysen. It described how to properly set up and run the GnuCash program for a small Canadian consulting company. With GnuCash I went farther than with any other program. I actually setup everything and I moved Lexan Software accounting into GnuCash. In fact now, when I am writing this text, GnuCash is our accounting solution. The last invoice I sent to my customer was printed from GnuCash.
I am off QuickBooks!
But, ... there are some problems. The first and the biggest problem with GnuCash is that it was written for Linux. And not just for Linux, but under the Gnome desktop. I spent three days trying to install it on my MacBook Pro. With the help of Fink I managed to install and start the program. Not easy, but finally I saw the GnuCash interface running under the OSX X Window system. What I could not solve was the problem with printing. Something is wrong with the fonts used and all the print-outs come out blank. It does not matter if I try printing to a real printer or to a PDF file.
I tried the Windows port of GnuCash, but it is not worth installing. It is buggy, unstable and produces print-outs that are mirrored.
I ended up installing the program on our Linux server. I use the program in X Window on my MacBook through an ssh connection. The good thing is I can get access to it from anywhere. The bad thing is that, it is slow and I cannot print directly, so I need to print into PDF, transmit the file to my client computer and print again on a real printer.
I continued my research and one day I ran into NolaPro . NolaPro is an accounting service. You can download the program and run it on your server for free, or you can subscribe to the service, but in that case you have to pay some monthly fee.
I downloaded and installed it on our server. The installation was quite easy, and if you have ever installed any PHP based web services you can have it run in a day. (The only one trouble I had was that the program update utility required to have an administrative MySQL account capable of creating/dropping databases. Usually, hosting companies do not allow access to such an account, so we could not install the program on our shared servers)
The program is good. It has some minor interface glitches, but in general it works fine. The reason I decided not to use it was that it does not provide the simple transaction view for an account. I mean the screen where you can see the list of transactions and add/edit any transaction in the list. Such a view is available in QuickBooks and GnuCash. In NolaPro you can only create a check or deposit money into the account, you can also see a report for an account. I was used to the transaction view, so I returned to GnuCash.
I also tried some commercial programs, but once I realized that my accounting solution could be free, I lost much interest in commercial programs.
I am a big supporter of web services. Playing with NolaPro, I realized once again that web solutions have some major advantages. How nice would it be if I could have something simple and easy to use as GnuCash but implemented on a cloud, like NolaPro service! That would be a real winner for me.
Someone should just implement it. Someone...
The last piece of the puzzle came from Google. When they introduced their application engine, I was in the first 10,000 who got the invitation to try it. Now anyone can implement a web service which is fast and scalable enough to serve the whole planet. Nice!
The whole picture suddenly come together in my head. The only thing I needed to start now was the name... accounting of the Google Age... Gccounting. If only domain name was available. It was! I got the gccounting.com and the turning point was passed.
Gccounting development started.
1. Implement a simple money management system capable of managing small business accounting with invoices, taxes, and multi-currency.
2. Make it available as a web service for everyone.
3. Try to keep it free indefinitely. Hopefully, some sponsors came and some ad revenue can cover the expenses.
4. Move the Lexan Software Inc. accounting into the new system this year.
You can track our progress here: gccounting.appspot.com