Linux bookkeeping: calculating payroll

Revenue Canada - Payroll Deductions Online Calculator.

I had yet another Windows setback last week. I had some automatic updates that needed to restart the system in order to finish up. Upon reboot, it got to 35% complete and then...nothing. I eventually did a hard reboot. A couple of days later, I was back in Ubuntu, backing up my important files before doing a clean install. No matter how many tips or tricks I tried, I could only get into Safe Mode.

To make matters worse, Friday was payday for one of my clients. Of course, all of those records are in QuickBooks, which I couldn't get to until I was done backing up and restoring my OS. I ended up getting it done, and it wasn't as difficult as I had imagined.

Revenue Canada has always had downloadable tax tables, and a fairly good Windows app. I didn't realize they also had an online payroll calculator. It's really good. It handles all the calculations, prints off a decent PDF "paystub", and even gives you a total for how much you need to remit. Unfortunately, it only gives you this for each employee. There's no way to get a running total for all the paycheques you make.

Long term, this isn't a solution on its own. I need to have a system to track the year-to-date totals, and it doesn't handle things like advances or non-taxable deductions very well. But, when I was done, I realized that this and a well made spreadsheet would do a pretty good job, especially if you're only tracking a handful of employees. If you are working for a bigger company (maybe 10+ employees), you'll either need a proper application, or a spreadsheet black belt. You wouldn't want to get those year end calculations wrong, or you may end up with a call from a Revenue Canada auditor.

This doesn't solve all of my problems yet. I would still need a fairly robust accounting app, but this was exciting to realize that I had options if I was temporarily without a Windows install.

What About That Linux Experiment?

Many of you read my previous posts about bookkeeping in Linux. I started out a really fun experiment to try to do my bookkeeping using the popular open source operating system. If you read those first 2 posts, you may be wondering what is happening with the test.

Well, to put it simply, work has gotten in the way. I suppose that starting an experiment at the beginning of tax season wasn’t my smartest decision. As such, I’ve been swamped with my offline work, and just haven’t had the time to continue my experiment.

The main stipulation was to try it out on my own files first, so that client work wasn’t risked during the experiment. There was no way I was going to try this out on a client’s QuickBooks database, and have something go wrong.

When I have more time on my hands, I fully intend to get back to the test. Although I have been frustrated by some of Ubuntu’s limitations, I still want to give it a fair chance to impress me. In the end, if Linux is going to get significant mainstream adoption, it has to be able to natively perform all the basic tasks anyone would do on their Windows or Mac based computers.

So, as soon as I can spare an hour or two, I’ll be booting back into Ubuntu, and giving it another shot. Stay tuned!

Linux Bookkeeping–First Impressions


I have started to realize that doing these experiments is so much better than my previous strategy; jump into a new project blindly and hope for the best. Apparently that’s not the way to make positive changes in your life. Who knew?

If I had dumped Windows altogether by just solving the bookkeeping problem, I would have been in trouble. That’s not the big picture. There are some other issues with the switch that I hadn’t anticipated.

1. Just finding replacement apps isn’t enough.

This isn’t the first time I’ve installed and run Ubuntu, so I had an idea what to expect. The main problem is the “feel” of things in a new OS. I think it’s the same as a new house. Sure, there are rooms, windows, doors, and appliances, but it’s still not quite the same as your last house. I have a word processor, a media player, and the browser is even the same one (Chrome), but all my routines and shortcuts are different. Plus, despite my best efforts, I could not setup the wireless drivers without having to connect to an wired connection. I even downloaded them from Windows, and then rebooted. Still nothing. This is probably my lack of knowledge.

If I had to live in Ubuntu 100% of the time, right now I’d be a bit lost. It will just take some time to figure out all the idiosyncrasies that I spent 20+ years learning in Windows. More importantly, I really need to learn how to live in the terminal if I’m going to be productive in Linux. If I have to run to Google every time I need to change a setting, this is going to kill my productivity.

2. Linux isn’t designed with certain professionals in mind.

If you’re a coder or a network admin, I can’t imagine a better platform. Unfortunately, I think the more mainstream professionals are in a standoff with developers. Nobody wants to work on certain apps because the users aren’t there, and the users don’t want to run Linux because the apps aren’t there.

Bookkeeping is a prime example. So far, I have found one desktop option that’s even remotely close to anything I’ve used in Windows. It’s called GnuCash. I will be writing at least one post in this series on GnuCash, but my first impressions aren’t great. It’s all about UI, which probably isn’t the primary focus for Linux developers. I’m sure the fundamentals are all there, but when I can’t even pull up a customer list from a menu, we’ve got a problem.

Bloggers are also short-changed, at least from my initial impressions. I wanted to do some screencasts of my experiment, but I haven’t found anything on par with the Windows or Mac counterparts. I briefly tried out something called recordmydesktop, but the video came out looking like someone had taken a lighter to a VHS tape. That could be my ineptitude showing again, but it shouldn’t be this hard.

3. It’s not all about work.

Obviously I don’t work 24/7, although it sure feels like it sometimes. I also don’t follow a very normal workday. I don’t get up and work from 9-5, Monday through Friday. I have sections of time throughout the day, from morning until bedtime, that I get my work done. So, I need to have an OS that will handle my downtime as well, without having to reboot.

I discovered a big strike against Linux a couple days ago. For some reason, Netflix streaming won’t work. Now, there is probably a simple explanation, but why would something that runs in a browser care what OS I’m running? I’ve been using this more and more lately, so this is frustrating. Plus, if I leave Windows, I’d leave iTunes behind, which means no rentals from there. Since Canada doesn’t get Hulu or Amazon streaming service, I’m not sure how that would work.

Initial Conclusions

I need more time to get used to the OS. This is very early stages here, so I’m not about to give up just because I’ve run into some headaches. I still like the idea of running an open system. I just hope that “you get what you pay for” isn’t the case here.

As always, insight and advice are both appreciated.

Teach Me About Linux Bookkeeping


To be blunt, I hate my current workflow. I’ve got my business running with such a nightmare combination of software and hardware, and something’s got to change.

I’ve got desktop software mixed with online apps, paid mixed with free, Windows laptop mixed with iPhone. In my attempt to have each component be the best choice for me, I’ve ended up with something even Dr. Frankenstein would disown.

What I want to do is get some consistency throughout my setup, even if that means not all of the components are #1 in their respective fields. So, either I go all Windows, all Mac, or all Linux. Maybe that’s a bit extreme, but I’m willing to try it out to see if it improves my output.

The catalyst for this was twofold. I need a new phone, and I want to get more of my operation online. I’ve been going back and forth between iOS and Android. (I’m currently running a very beat up iPhone 3G) I’ve got a ton of music, which favours iPhone, but I hate being tied down to iTunes and Apple’s crazy control-freak tendencies. My reliance on desktop software for bookkeeping is also frustrating. Now that I’m working more with people remotely, I’d like to be able to run a program that lets them check in to their data from time to time. So far, I haven’t found any online bookkeeping software that lets you manage multiple clients like I can in QuickBooks.

So, this post is both an announcement and a call for help. My plan was to either try switching to Linux or Mac as an experiment. After speaking to my bookkeeper (you may know him as…me), we decided all new Mac hardware wasn’t in the budget. Instead, I’ve got Ubuntu dual-booting on my Dell Studio 15, and I’m going to see if it’s possible to get my work done in Linux.

To my current clients, don’t worry. I’m testing this out on my own books for now, so your data is safe. Part of my test will include running QuickBooks using a couple different methods (once again, using a copy of my own business’ data). I’ll also try out online options, as well as a Linux desktop program.

I would love, and really need, your insight. Although I have used Linux before, I never stuck with it long enough to be an expert. I certainly haven’t tried doing the books with it before. If you have any experience with bookkeeping in Linux, please let me know your results. I’m also open to suggestions about my new smartphone. I’m on Rogers, but could also switch to Bell if the right phone came along.

I’ll keep you up to date on this experiment as it unfolds.