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.