A few months ago, I wrote an article called Open Source and Microsoft Free which discussed my switch from Microsoft XP to Ubuntu at work. In that article I discussed how after seven weeks, I was able to do my job with next to no issues. At the end of the article I recommended a small Linux pilot:
The worst thing that can happen with a small pilot is that you discover that Linux won't work for your organization. At least then you can sleep at night knowing you did your homework and made a strategic decision based on real information.I have now been Microsoft free at work for almost five months. We had our Linux pilot kickoff meeting yesterday and are preparing to pilot Linux, Open Office, Evolution email client (not replacing Exchange), and Firefox as the standard Open Source image. We have not yet selected which distribution of Linux we want to pilot (we have some more research to do here). For applications that require a Microsoft operating system we have two options. First, we will use Wine to install applications like Visio and IE for those drawings or activeX enabled web sites that don't have Open Source solutions at this time. The second option is to leverage one of our Citrix servers to host applications that will not work well without Microsoft products. We can simply consolidate all of these applications on a single Citrix server and install the Citrix client on each Linux user's desktop.
An important requirement of this pilot is to make sure we address all of the desktop standards that are enforced on our Windows desktops. That means we must address desktop lockdowns, patch management, data encryption and cryptography, virus scanning, and many other security and management features. Our current action item is to review all of these standards and present how we will address each one on our Linux desktops.
For this first pilot we agreed to keep it simple. We will select one Linux distribution, chose a small group of 5-6 users within IT, create a standard image for all pilot users, and create a self sufficient support plan so we don't interfere with the desktop team's day to day commitments. One thing I learned from all of the feedback I received from the last article and from talking to the management team of the desktop group is that doing this in stealth mode can be disruptive and a breach of security. Although the stealth mode initiative got us to this point, I regret not taking a more formal and open approach to a pilot. What I found is that my world is not so anti open source after all. In fact, having an Open Source strategy with an active Linux pilot gives you great leverage the next time you negotiate with Microsoft for Vista and Office 2007 licensing!
Our immediate goal is to collect information to understand the potential usability and support challenges of an enterprise Linux desktop solution. Do I think that we will ever replace Windows at work? Heck no. Do I think we have a substantial amount of users who can be fully functional without the costs of a Microsoft computing environment? Heck yes. The majority of PC and laptop users barely utilize the power of their hardware. They spend most of their time in email, a browser, and in Office. There is always the power users who have much more advanced requirements. But for the average computer user, the basic usage can easily be replaced with Open Source solutions.
I will continue to write periodic updates about our lessons learned over the next several months. I would welcome constructive feedback and would love to hear your experiences if you have been down this road before.
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