At the moment there are three Windows programs that I really can’t live without:
- SKY Index — the program I use to make a living. It’s a superb index-preparation application that does its job supremely well, but it is a niche application based on Microsoft Access, and there is unlikely to ever be a Linux version unless I write one.
- Adobe Acrobat Pro — sorry, but PDF Editor just doesn’t cut it. If I have to I can duplicate most of the actual file manipulation I do in Acrobat with bash scripts, but there is just no alternative for going through a scanned book and checking that all the pages are there, the right way up and in the right order.
- Instant Invoice. It’s old, it’s ugly, and it periodically crashes running under Wine, but it does the job of preparing invoices smoothly and well, and up till now there has not been a Linux equivalent. But that may have changed.
When I started running my own business I originally issued invoices in Excel. Later I wrote a more sophisticated invoicing system in Microsoft Access. I tried the general-purpose financial programs like QuickBooks, but found that they were massively overcomplicated. My accounting system is simple: a) money comes in; I b) spend some of it; and c) bank the rest. I keep track of a), and let b) and c) look after themselves, but Quickbooks and MYOB aren’t prepared to let me do that. They want to record the fate of every cent from the instant it comes into range until long after I die and my heirs blow it all on the wake. That’s too much like hard work.
So an invoicing system has to be able to focus on receipts and ignore everything else. It has to recognise that some jobs are paid by the hour, some are paid by the page, and some are paid as a fixed sum. It has to allow me to modify the invoices to include Australian requirements like an ABN, a provision for GST, and the words ‘Tax invoice’. It has to let me print the invoices and save them as PDF files. Instant Invoice does all that. It also keeps a list of customers and a list of jobs. And that’s about all it does, but that’s fine with me.
Naturally I looked for Linux substitutes when I moved across. Oh, how I looked! But they were all either overly complex, impossible to customise, or just plain weird. In the last category I include a bizarre application written in PHP which required me to install a web hosting package in order to make it function, and took ages to process each command through its tabbed HTML interface. So I gave up, and for the last year or so I have persevered with Instant Invoice, despite having to reinstall it every time it gets temperamental.
Now those days may be over. I have come across Busy Bee from bee-software. I haven’t given it a full trial yet, but it looks like it might do everything that Instant Invoice can, and maybe a little bit more, while looking much prettier and running as a native application under Linux. It’s not free, alas, but it’s only $US29, and if it performs successfully in my trial I will part with the money gladly.
I’m not about to give a full description or review of the program here — you can find details and some training videos on the site — but briefly, it works by collecting details of three things: your customers, your employees, and the tasks they carry out. The invoicing screen puts all these together into a single record, and plugs the fields from this record into a PDF form. The results look like this:
The trial version, as you can see, puts a watermark across the PDF: that is removed when you pay the registration fee. The invoice format and layout can be customised somewhat:
It’s not perfect — I’m going to have to tweak it to charge for jobs rather than hours, and it required me to install Adobe Air in order to download it (64-bit users can find a .deb package for Adobe Air here). But all in all, it seems to do what I need, and if it copes with the trial period I will pay the registration fee and swing it into action with the new financial year on July 1.
Thank you, bee-software, for restoring my faith in Linux nature! I knew someone would do it eventually!