I am a certified QuickBooks technician. And, to be perfectly honest, QuickBooks stinks. When it works it’s great…but when it doesn’t work, it’s a NIGHTMARE! It’s terribly sensitive to network hiccups, it isn’t smart enough to switch itself out of single user mode after a scheduled backup, it’s slow, it constantly can not find data files, it’s expensive…the list goes on and on. And I hear these complaints nearly every day. Along with those complaints comes the question: “Do you know of an alternative?” The answer to that question is always, unfortunately, “No.”

I want to be able to tell clients “Why yes, I do know of an alternative that is easy to use, reliable, and open source!” Unfortunately I can not. I want that alternative to be GnuCash, but it isn’t. As good as GnuCash is (and I’ve been using it daily for a long, long time) it can not stand up to what QuickBooks users need. GnuCash has no multi-user mode. GnuCash has no server capabilities. GnuCash does not have a user-friendly GUI that contains one-click buttons to access nearly ever feature it offers.

Nope. As good as GnuCash is, it’s not what the business public wants. It should be, but it’s not. And that’s a shame because GnuCash is one of the few fully cross-platform accounting packages that can handle nearly every accounting need of either an individual user or a business. But it lacks too many key elements to be adopted across the board.

So…I thought I would fill in the blanks so that anyone who has the developer chops could pick up the open source GnuCash and roll up what could easily be a QuickBooks killer. Here’s what GnuCash needs:

Multi-user capability: With GnuCash you can have multiple users, but each user has to have their own data file. Or you can have multiple users opening up the same data file, but not concurrently. GnuCash is a one-at-a-time tool. I realize this feature alone would take either a team of developers or an incredibly talented individual to pull off. But I know there are some brilliant open source developers out there who could add this feature.
Backend server: Right now the closest you can come to this is sharing the data file out with Samba. But when you do that you are going to come across Samba’s widely inconsistent file-locking issues. And when you’re dealing with finances, you do NOT want those kind of mistakes haunting you. This feature couldn’t be all that hard – once the multi-user feature was added. But until multi-user is in place, the backend server is not going to happen.
Better home screen: If anything, Intuit did get the home screen right with Quickbooks. From that screen users can quickly click on a button to open up the feature they want. No need for menus. It’s quick, it’s elegant, and very user-friendly. Although GnuCash does have a fairly user-friendly interface, it’s going to need to fall in line with that Quickbooks does if it wants to attract the type of users who make up the bulk of the QuickBooks community. You know the type.
Tax software integration: This one is tough, because there are no Linux solutions for taxes. However, it would be helpful if GnuCash could at least calculate the numbers that can then be entered into tax software. I realize this isn’t the easiest as tax laws change year to year. It’s too bad the government hasn’t become nearly as transparent as they promised. Had they pulled that off, tax law could be as simple as downloading a specific, open format, file and then importing it into the software. Not going to happen in the near future, that’s for sure.

That’s really it. With the above four features GnuCash could easily take down QuickBooks as the leading financial software. And better yet, it would give Linux yet another boost. This could happen. All it would take is a bit of thought and project management on the GnuCash developer’s part. Either that or a “QuickBooks-like fork” of GnuCash which could integrate those features.

I would love to some day be able to tell clients, “Why yes, I do know of an option that you will find much more reliable and far cheaper!” Slap that data file server on a Linux machine and have some seriously happy customers.

There are days I wish I would have continued studying programming so I could follow through with all of the projects that have come into my head over the years. But I didn’t. So instead I am content offering up ideas to developers and hope that some day I will offer up one that will stick and help to enrich the open source community. But then…on the GnuCash front – I’m sure I am not the first who has suggested these very same features.

What do you think? Could GnuCash become a QuickBooks killer?