Is Linux ready for your Small Business?

I ran across a great article this morning informing small businesses about the viability of switching over to linux instead of Microsoft Windows.  If any of you have read my blog before you probably know I’m a big linux proponent.  I also made this suggestion in my post about Microsoft’s decision to stop shipping XP.  The article does a good job at pointing out some of the benefits of linux and potentially a few issues as well.  They also have a good post listing some common linux replacements for Windows applications.  I’m not sure I agree with all of their suggestions, but they are good points.  I would definitely suggest Mozilla Firefox over Konqueror as a browser, but other than that, they make some great suggestions.

They also mention Windows applications running under Wine, using virtualization to still run Windows, or dual booting.  Honestly, I don’t think any of those would be required.  The main issue you will run into if you decide to go this route is convincing your users and training them on the new applications.  Many of them won’t need much training, but there will definitely be little things along the way.  I do have some very helpful tips for anyone considering this though.

Start Slow. Don’t try to switch everyone over to linux over night.  The best route I would suggest is to first ask for volunteers.  If you know some closet linux fans, go after them first.  The goal of this phase is to win over a few employees that can help convince the rest of the employees.  If you can get a regular, non IT, employee to start using it and they buy into it and enjoy it, their testament will be much more convincing than anything any IT employee could say.  If the user REALLY likes it, or if the user is a higher up manager, and they are very influential with the other employees you may even get a grass roots movement on your hands where the mast majority of users are requesting to be switched over to linux.

Start Switching Applications Now. When you decide to start down this road, one of the best things you can do is to start switching applications now.  Start installing Firefox on your Windows machines and encourage users to use it instead of IE (I would even suggest changing the default browser).  Most linux IM clients also have a working Windows version.  Install OpenOffice and remove Microsoft Office.  That last one will probably cause the most complaints.  If you don’t want to completely remove Microsoft Office yet you can just change the file associations so by default documents open in OpenOffice instead of Microsoft.  I would also suggest changing settings in OpenOffice so that, by default, it will save documents in the Microsoft 97-2003 formats.  These steps will at least get your current Windows users used to the new applications so when you switch them over to linux it won’t be as big of a change for them.

Those two steps are really the most important two things to do in order to make this transition easier.  I would definitely suggest at least giving it some thought as it can save your organization a good amount of money.  If anyone has any success (or failure) stories with any such transitions I’d love to hear them.

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5 Responses to Is Linux ready for your Small Business?

  1. Musaul says:

    I’m writing a series of articles Linux desktop software. Mostly from software I regularly use or tried out. I’m also trying out some more applications for the sake of getting a complete list of applications that “most” people would want to use.

    Here’s what I have so far.

    GNU/Linux Web & Communications Applications
    GNU/Linux Multimedia Applications
    GNU/Linux Office Productivity Applications

    I agree with starting slow, but as for Office applications, but I don’t understand why you would want to save your files in MS Office format by default. Wouldn’t that perpetuate the need for MS Office, especially if you send your documents to 3rd parties?

  2. itatsmallbiz says:

    Well, at first, until everyone is switched over to OpenOffice, this is mainly to decrease the number of questions the IT department will receive from the people still using Microsoft Office as to why they can’t open the files from their co-worker. Also, with the current state of things, this is probably still the best route to take if you ever send documents to anyone outside your organization. They very well may still be using Microsoft Office, so they need the documents in a format they can use. Since OpenOffice will both read and write this format it won’t perpetuate the need for Office. Other people using OpenOffice can simply open in that, and people using Microsoft Office can open in their application as well. I would love to be able to say use the nice default “open” format…but I just don’t think that will work until Microsoft Office (the version used by most businesses, which I would still say is 2003) will read that format. If you leave the default to saving in the open format and the employee now gets complaints from Microsoft users that he/she sends documents to because they can’t open them, the employee is not going to be that happy and won’t like the new application.

  3. Musaul says:

    Is see. You’re not talking about a sitewide switch to openoffice, but on an individual ad hoc basis. This can be a dangerous thing, as there are formatting discrepencies between word and writer (and I’m sure the counterparts in the other applications) when you are reading writing doc files. Especially with complex documents with embedded diagrams.

    If it comes to sending read-only copies of your documents to other people, you can easily export PDFs from OpenOffice. I’ve been doing that for a few years now.

    But I suppose there are a lot of people who just use these for simple documents, and spreadsheets. I suppose for them a default doc/xls format could be a good thing to save on complaints.

  4. promotinglinux says:

    I support Linux 100% but I feel that people should make an objective decision for themselves after reading The Truth about Linux.

  5. itatsmallbiz says:

    I always have to laugh when someone posts that link (The Truth about Linux). I can’t believe anyone actually takes that site seriously.

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