Free small business accounting software is somewhat akin to the free lunch. In computer terminology, free software often means “open source” software. That term refers to software programs that were designed to run on operating systems like Unix and Linux, the Sun Computers proprietary platform Solaris. There are some free accounting software programs available that do run on versions of Windows or on DOS. Many of these programs, however, have a base version that is provided free of charge as a download – and for which you can buy the additional features that make the product a fully rounded out small business accounting system.
There is a website that provides an assortment of free accounting software packages that run on a number of different platforms. You can browse through their selections at http://snorkel.rtfm.com.au/~aspect/cash.html. Most are specialized formats; some are designed to run on a web browser.
One product listed as a free small business accounting program that runs on Windows is OneStep Accounting. It sounds about right, until the last sentence: “It includes: general ledger, invoicing, bill paying, and inventory tracking. The Standard Edition is freeware.” As we mentioned, for many of these products the base edition is a teaser designed to sell the full fledged model.
One free accounting program that makes no immediate mention of add-ons with expenses attached is Miser. They describe their program in the following blurb: “You don’t need to be an accountant to use this program! Contains the following modules: debtors, creditors, cash Book, stock, ledger & sales analysis, manufacturing.” It also runs on every Windows system up to 2000 but makes no mention of XP on the site running its description. Miser can be located at: http://www.geocities.com/Eureka/Enterprises/7323/miser.html
Other “free” options out there include Grisbi, an open source accounting program that claims to run on both Linux and Windows. Lazy Ledger is a program which will run on any machine with any operating system that has a Java Virtual Machine installed: the catch is that “This accounting program is designed for people who have experience in bookkeeping.” Not a lot of tutorials there.
Aqura Lite is a free accounting program with minimal features in the “Lite” version and a price tag attached to the complete version. The same structure is true of Ace Money Lite; a program for personal financial organization “that can also be used for business accounting.” Easy Cash Manager is a Dutch freeware product that is available from their website in a number of languages. On first glance, it appears to be a spreadsheet with some sort of graphing program added for chartflow displays. You can look this product over at http://www.moor-software.com/
Free sounds extremely inviting. What will be missing with all of these options is extensive instruction and technical support once the product is installed. Once you’ve downloaded it, you’re on your own. On the other hand, a decent small business accounting software package will probably cost out at a minimum of $300. If you buy the right product you can scale up or add features – also a minimal possibility with freeware.