Using the RPi for Small Business...


5 posts
by BillStephenson » Wed Jul 03, 2013 3:02 am
While so many here have been working on really cool and fun stuff I've been working on something a lot less exciting...

I've set up my "www.ezInvoice.com" and "www.Foxdesk.com" small business software apps on the RPi running on both apache and Lighttpd, and it runs pretty good. I'm sure it can be improved with some tweaks and optimizations, but I'm pretty thrilled at how it works as is. Personally, I am amazed with RPi's cost vs performance.

So, I'm thinking of selling a plug-n-play RPi with my software pre-installed along with Libre Office and some other tools for small businesses. I could also just sell a disk image of the latest Raspbian OS with the software pre-installed and let the user purchase their own RPi, and I'd really like to create an installer and put my software on the "Pi Store".

Delivering the software as an installed app has actually been a goal of mine since I first created ezInvoice back in 2001 and released it as a "Web App" in 2002. I must have been one of the first to sell business software with a subscription and deliver it over the web back then, but that's because there was no easy way to sell it to the target market, which is very small businesses.

I know "The Cloud" is all the rage right now, and it's really weird for me to see Adobe, Apple, and Microsoft selling their software as a web based subscription service now after all these years, but I've always known that owning your software and having your data in your possession is the only right way to approach the needs of business. The "Cloud" should be an added feature, not the source. That will probably come next, but Adobe, Apple, and Microsoft won't be the first to embrace that model either.

My server side software is written in Perl. I've tried to make it simple, easy to read, follow, and modify. It's loosely based on a MVC (model, view, controller) design but I've stayed away from using some of the more popular methods and frameworks used in most web apps. For example, I don't use MySQL to store data, I use text files and CGI.pm's "Save" feature. The client side is created with HTML, CSS, and Javascript, and it's all pretty simple too. Right now I use the Prototype JS libraries to handle some AJAX and layer effects. I'm thinking of switching to JQuery because it's easier to use and I think it might run a little faster on the RPi.

So, when my software is installed on an RPi all the code is there for the end user to modify anyway they want, which I think is a great thing. I've set an RPi up with a fixed IP and domain name on my LAN and run the app with my Mac Mini, Windows PC, Android and iPhone, and it's almost as fast as the web apps on my production server.

I guess what I'm hoping for by posting this is some encouragement. There are so many awesome projects being done on the RPi, and mine seems kind of (awful) boring. Making invoices and purchase orders isn't a lot of fun, but that's the first thing I thought of when I helped crash the servers trying to order my RPi. :lol:

I live pretty far out in the Ozark Mountains in the US and no one within an hours drive has a clue about what I do. You guys are the only people I know to talk to this about, so I would love to hear some thoughts on this.
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by thradtke » Wed Jul 03, 2013 9:30 am
Before the Pi, I had something similar in mind - a PHP/Postgreql XML CMS solution for generating operating instructions. Since it is based on free Software only (besides the obvious, apache fop with a custom xsl processor etc. has to be installed), the installation process is difficult and critical. It runs in our company under OpenSuse and lately Oracle Linux.

Selling a complete package (server, installation and service plan) is a very good idea imo! Maybe you should consider a custom case containg the Pi, hub, 2 x USB HDD and PSU.
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by liz » Wed Jul 03, 2013 11:03 am
I don't think it sounds boring at all; excellent and very worthwhile idea. Keep us posted on how you get on!
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by cyrano » Wed Jul 03, 2013 11:50 am
You seem to be the first to understand the cloud. Every time I read about anything "cloudy", I end up with more questions than answers.

Nothin' boring 'bout this!
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by BillStephenson » Thu Jul 04, 2013 12:26 am
You are all so cool to respond. 8-)

thradtke, I was explaining something like that to my neighbor the other day and his eyes glazed over within seconds. It is so nice to hear from someone else who gets it.

Liz, I really didn't expect you to chime it, but I can tell you it means a lot to me. I know how busy you are and I kind of figured I'd be way under your radar, so it's very kind of your to offer your support.

cyrano, thank you too. As an early adaptor of web based software distribution I've long understood the pros/cons of the platform. I still want software I can own.

It has really been a very exciting process for me to experiment with this. The RPi has really opened up a new realm for me to play and learn in. I see the RPi as a new way for developers to distribute their software because now we can include a computer with it. I find that amazing.

Thanks again to all for your time and support. You've really inspired me to move ahead with this. I'll keep you posted on my progress...
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