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Linux for the Small Businesses

written by: Tolga BALCI•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 5/20/2011

You do not need to install an all-Microsoft environment for your small office, if you do not need very specific applications. Linux can answer all your network administration needs, from a couple of users to large local area networks (LANs) to wide area networks (WANs).

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    Introduction

    Typically, for your small office you need to have office applications, a network server, a groupware application, proxy server, file server and an anti-virus server. You do not need to go for expensive Microsoft Office and Exchange applications for these purposes. You will benefit from huge savings using Linux and have your cash to spend for more useful things, such as further investments in your business.

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    Office Applications

    We have done an extensive review of Linux office applications here in Brighthub. For KOffice you can go here and here, for OpenOffice.org here, for GnomeOffice here and IBM Lotus Symphony here. However, before selecting which Office suite to go, I advise you to check Microsoft Office compatibility extensively before full deployment. In this perspective, OpenOffice.org stands as a stronger alternative. For the office programs that have e-mail and personal information management, it will also be wise to check its compatibility with your groupware server (see below.)

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    Groupware

    There are many applications available as groupware applications. You can have a look at Open X-change, Kolab and Citadel. I will not go into the details for analyzing them one by one (out of the scope of this article) but for your small business, I strongly recommend you to go each one in detail, get into contact with the developers and find the one that meets your requirements. This is a very important step because once you choose one it will be very costly if not very difficult to go back and start with a new one.

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    E-mail

    If you do not prefer using groupware applications but prefer a stand-alone e-mail application, then you can go for Postfix. Do not be fooled by the cute website and assume that the application is too casual for business use; you can not imagine how many businesses use Postfix as their e-mail transfer program. Anyway, if you want further choices you can look at Squirrel Mail, Courier or Cyrus. And you also have the option to enable webmail for your employees. Linux is full of choices, remember?

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    Antivirus, Antispyware and Antispam

    No matter everyone tells Linux is free from viruses, trojans or other malware, you have to build your business’s system with security in mind. For that matter (and to keep your sanity afterwards) I strongly recommend you to install antivirus, antispyware and antispam on your server. There are powerful tools for these purposes: Amavis-d for spam and virus checking, SpamAssasin to filter spam and ClamAV for virus scan.

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    Network Server

    Linux is born to be networked; to such an extent that you do not need to install anything to configure it to serve your network. Define IP addresses, define interfaces, routings and leave the computer running. Really, you do not need anything else.

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    File Server

    You can define any network folder and use it as it’s created on your local drive. For example, I am using NFS (Network File System) at home, where I can access the server with a Linux machine, and my wife uses it with her Windows machine. My good ol’ computer can handle these connections (plus guest ones as well) without any delay, and there is no reason not to deploy it on a larger scale.

    Or, you have the option to use Samba. Going with this option will enable you to work in a hybrid network; i.e. both Linux and Windows computers on the same network. With Samba, you can also share your printers on the network too.

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    Proxy Server

    To manage your company’s proxy settings, you will need nothing more than Squid. Squid is an almost infinitely flexible solution, ranging from managing your kid’s Internet activities to your holding’s Internet connections. This management varies from keeping cache on your server of the websites visited, to authenticating users and the like.

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    Conclusion

    I will repeat what I have said at the beginning. You do not need to pay USD 150 for a Windows operating system and USD 150 for Microsoft Office for each computer in your workplace. You can save all this money for your company and yet have a powerful system. In fact, if you know what you are doing, or better, if you are a do-it-yourself type of person, you can even deploy a standard computer resting somewhere at home to work as a server in your company. The only problem is the file server, where you will need large disk capacity. If this will be a problem for you, you can even go so far as to deploy shared filespaces on the Internet, meaning that you can take advantage of the “cloud”. For the articles in Bright Hub about cloud computing, you can check this page and this one. Check out your opportunities to be more cost-effective.