Project Parole - Month 5: Running a Business on Free and Open Software

Remember Project Parole
I started a while back?  Well I'm officially going on 5 months now, and
I'd say it's a success.  The goal was to move all of my personal
computing/software to an open and free platform.  Not only have I
successfully moved all of my personal stuff, but we have also migrated
the business to an open/free architecture.

Now I know we don't
have colossal amounts of data like some of our customers, though I can
honestly say the migration was pretty straightforward.  These are the
core tools we use as a professional services firm, and the platforms we
moved to:

Corporate Email -
We had been using Hosted Exchange/Outlook for about 4 years, and it was
rock solid.  In fact, I don't remember it ever going down (it may have,
though it certainly didn't impact us).  That said, we were spending
about $300/month for mailboxes, not including our web hosting.  Not a
huge cost, though we needed something that we could integrate into other
apps, and Exchange is still somewhat of a silo.

We decided that Google Apps was going to be our development platform of choice for "standard" applications, so moving to Gmail was a no-brainer.  What wasn't a no-brainer
was moving our archives over.  We decided that while we could easily
migrate all of our mail directly from Exchange to Gmail, it's built on
an entirely different "methodology" of organizing mail.  Because Gmail
uses tagging rather than folders, you have to change the way you think
slightly.  It sounds intimidating, though it took about 3 or 4 days to
get used to.  Our decision was to move our Outlook pst archives to the free Mozilla Thunderbird client, and start with net-new mailboxes in Gmail.  I know...ouch
But this was based on the fact that (a) if we migrated our mail
straight over, our old folders would become tags, and we would lose the
hierarchy of folders from Outlook (b)
how much of our archives are we using on a daily basis anyway?  Turns
out that I find myself going into Thunderbird two or three times a
month.  Additionally, we can sync Thunderbird with Gmail and Exchange,
so it's easy to migrate individual messages if needed.

CRM - We've been building custom CRM systems for years, and our platform was always based on SugarCRM (open source and free).  We decided that we wanted a native Google Apps CRM tool, so we selected Zoho CRM.  Both being primarily open, the migration was a simple script and it was done.  Zoho and Sugar are basically clones of Salesforce, so the interface is virtually the same.  No learning curve.

Accounting - Microsoft Small Business Accounting
was our package for a few years and it's definitely a slick package
that met our needs, though it only runs on Windows and as far as
integration --forget it.  And not to mention Microsoft recently dumped
it.  We decided to move to Zoho Invoice.  Again, integration was simple being a native Google App, though the hard part was deciding what to do with our SBA data.  We ended up doing a raw data dump and wrote a script to migrate to Zoho,
but this was not pretty to be honest.  We had to do some manual setup
of reports and other tools, though for the most part we are back in

Project Management - Zoho Projects was also an easy choice and thankfully we were already using it (along with Basecamp from time to time).  The best part was all we had to do is add the app in Google Apps, and all of our data was there...automagically.

Creative - The GIMP
is a cross platform graphical editor, and it's been our standard since
it was created.  And there are a host of other free cross-platform
graphical tools for Linux.

Development - Not only is there an extensive ecosystem of pre-built Google Apps out there, though it's not terribly hard to integrate into custom apps either.  When we do need to do custom work, such as traditional web development (PHP/CSS/MySQL), see "Custom Stuff" below.

Custom Stuff - Dreamweaver (among other dev
tools) has been great since the dawn of the Internet, though it's Adobe
and it's expensive.  Most of our internal line of business applications
are web-based anyway, so there was no need for any migration.  As far
as our customer application development, we decided to move to
Bluefish.  I will say that Bluefish
is not enterprise ready, as there a clear limitations with source
control and collaboration, but we are a small team, so it does the job
for now.  We'll need something else as we continue to increase our
development team.

So there it is.  Again, we are a small
company, though this is very scalable for the basic tools, no matter if
you are a 5 or 5,000 person company.  As for that corporate ERP migration/upgrade, well that's a different story.

Now get back to the business, and enough with the technology.


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