Open Source

What will it take for Linux and Open Source to dethrone Microsoft?

Posted on January 3, 2010. Filed under: Linux, Open Source |

Will this be the year of Desktop Linux? I really doubt that. I think it will take a few corporate success stories about deploying Linux desktops to get the ball rolling. Let’s face it, most IT managers prefer to make safe decisions. Maybe you have heard the saying, “Nobody gets fired for using Microsoft products”? In the industry I work in, we compare the technology we use to everyone else when the yearly trade journal stats are released. Before you go flaming me over this, keep in mind that all of us answer to someone. If I want to use technology X, I have to sell it to the CIO, and he/she has to sell that to the Board or CEO. I don’t just go and do anything I want to, I must first present my plans and get approval, and be prepared to defend each step of my proposal. That’s just the way it is.

When I first started working for my current employer, I found that I wasn’t the first engineer that had worked there that was pro Linux and Open Source. At first they heard the word Linux and said “here we go again”. I found that I had to pick and choose my battles. If there was a Microsoft solution and a Linux solution, I had to present clear facts that Linux was the better choice, and why it was so. I found that “free” and “better quality” didn’t necessarily matter when you have a Microsoft Data Center License and can deploy a new server from from a VMWare template with a GUI that everyone is already familiar with, and at no additional cost. My employer will frequently choose proprietary over free despite the cost if it was a “standard”, unless the open source solution clearly provided better functionality. If the average user would require retraining to use a different desktop O.S., or our existing applications aren’t compatible, that was like tethering a ships anchor to an airplane. It clearly isn’t going to fly.

We are currently in one of the best situations ever to think about moving to Linux on the desktop. With Windows XP’s end of life, many companies are already considering upgrading to Windows Vista or 7. The user interface has changed, and many existing applications aren’t compatible. I am currently reviewing a list of hundreds of applications for compatibility with  Windows 7 to decide what will have to be upgraded or replaced.

What is missing or needs improvement on Linux from an I.T. perspective? Please forgive my ignorance if I left something out or overlooked a solution. I don’t know everything. That’s what your comments are for. 🙂

  1. A desktop management framework similar to or better than MS Active Directory and GPO’s.
  2. Easy to understand server management tools. In this economy, I.T’s are increasingly being called on to be a jack of all trades. No time to become a Linux specialist for many overworked admins. I think that Webmin and E-Box are great steps in the right direction.
  3. Wine needs to offer professional grade support. With Windows 7, if your old application isn’t compatible, Microsoft’s Application Compatibility Toolkit can be used to create shims to get your app to work correctly. If your app isn’t already working under Wine, why can’t a team of support professionals charge for support to create a shim? Or better yet, if your new year’s resolution is to get involved with an open source project, this would be a good place to start. What specialized applications does your company use that may need work to function under Wine? Have you tested all of them to see if they work on Wine? Edit- While checking my sources I am happy to say I discovered that CodeWeavers offer paid support for Wine. Yippeeee!
  4. Don’t confuse your users with too many changes at once. Linux Distributions Mint, Easy Peasy, and Puppy do a great job of making things easy or familiar for most users.

What can be done to speed up adoption of open source systems?

  1. Volunteer your time. Even if you can’t program, if you have the time you can at least test and provide feedback to one of many great open source projects.
  2. Stop selling Linux. That is, configure a system that meets user needs and offer a free one month test drive. If you did a good job ensuring that the user’s application needs are met, the system is useable, and doesn’t force too many confusing changes on them at once, then chances are they wont want to give it back. Let it sell itself.
  3. I think that there is a great opportunity for the Linux Desktop just waiting for someone with the right resources to snap this up. Most of the average business users I speak with just want a simple business computer system that just works, without too many confusing bells and whistles. Make the user interface simple, and the system responsive. Business users don’t necessarily want flashy systems with a gazillion ways of doing things, only to see the system lock up and crash. Give them a simple system that meets their needs so they can get the job done. The industry has been stuck in a downward spiral of increasing computing power only to subject users to increasing complexity and problems. Think along the lines of Easy Peasy and getting things done in the most efficient way possible. Business users typically want simplicity and efficiency. Build a system like this, and provide support. Market it only to businesses and make the support plan too good to pass up. Let them have a free one month test drive. Make your offering viral by giving discounts or a free month of service for referrals.

Before you unleash the flames, please keep in mind that criticism backed up with fact or references is welcome. Profanity, or trolls who say “you suck”, etc. without providing us with anything substantial will make it into my Spam folder. That being said, don’t look at this article as an attack on FOSS, but as a call to unify and think outside the box to speed up open source adoption.

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