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Linux Adoption For The Windows User Overcoming Habit and Fear of Change

Overcoming habit and fear of change

In today's market IT professionals face a wide array of issues ranging from virus outbreaks to security flaws. These problems have spurred a revolution called Linux and Open Source.

IT professionals face a wide variety of issues ranging form virus outbreaks to security flaws across the board. In fact, advisories from IT-security services have grown from less than 300 per month to an average well above that for 2005. Of those advisories, 72% of them were of a nature where they could be executed remotely. These problems have spurred a revolution in the IT industry.

As this trend grows, concerns are arising about how safe your data is and whether systems that don't share their inter-workings can move rapidly to address these growing trends.

The Linux and Open Source community as a whole have developed greatly from the days of command prompts and command lines evolving into enterprise class systems with complex and useful graphical interfaces. This offers enterprises more choices than they ever had before as systems using open standards are transportable from one vendor to another. Applications can be hosted on Microsoft or Linux servers. Back office solutions like Apache Web servers (www.apache.org) can reside on Windows Servers until their logical end of life and then be migrated to a Linux platform when and if you choose to move later on.

These hurdles can be conquered, but to make the change from other operating systems cost-effective and the transition as smooth as possible, there must be one crucial piece in place, which should be in your plan. Linux migration can be a tremendous task, taking many man-hours as well as downtime, coupled with the task of retraining people on the new chosen desktop. Today many are looking for a way to transition or to protect an already stressed and venerable Windows environment. The question not only is what distribution to use, but how to find solutions that lessen the problems and labor involved in transitioning your current infrastructure. Moving from Windows to Linux should be no more resource consuming than moving from one version of Windows to another, if you plan well. As a distributor of bundled Linux products, I find that IT managers and end users alike are not interested in products but rather solutions - a combination of tools and systems that solve problems at a reasonable cost. Open Source software backed by competent vendors makes it possible for small companies to innovate and then interoperate to provide robust solutions that rival traditional Windows and Unix software.

The first step in bringing your plan to life is to choose a distribution, the term used by Linux vendors to identify their particular packaging of Linux that fits your needs and will have the most flexibility to leverage the investment in hardware and software. You don't want to make a hasty decision and choose an operating system because it may be a name you know; choose a system that has the most flexibility and features that will benefit you or your company. You may be asking yourself, "Well, what do I do with all the mission-critical information I have accumulated over the past years? Get rid of it?' The answer is no! There are many software suites on the market that will convert your much-needed Windows-based information over to Linux while ensuring that there is no loss of critical data. The next question you may be asking is, "What about the legacy software that my business or I use that requires Windows?" The good news is that there are also programs that will allow you to run Windows on a Linux platform as well as backing up and restoring your data. These include the community-sponsored Wine Project (www.winehq.org), Win4Lin (www.win4lin.com), and VMware. There are even plans by Microsoft to include virtualization products in their next generation product, Longhorn, that are purported to allow for the hosting of non-Microsoft operating systems as guest operating systems.

Finding the right Linux distribution for your company is not as difficult as you may think. Many distributions make the transition simple by providing the tools and interfaces with simple and recognizable formats. SimplyMEPIS (www.mepis.org) and Novell Linux Desktop (www.novell.com/products/desktop) are both examples of simple interfaces that may be familiar or, at the very least, intuitive. Many Linux technical users aren't fans of this approach because they tend to want to customize their interface rather than limit their number of choices This may be a consideration for the technical user or early Linux adopter, but the user who might benefit the most from an Open Source adoption decision is task-based or knowledge workers, not technical users. If your company is like most, you'll need to find one that incorporates many of the utilities and interfaces that resemble what your group is used to. Finding the right tools is what is needed to save time and effort and make your conversion a simple one.

An important thing to look for is an all-inclusive set of utilities to make the transition simple - getting the Windows environment converted to Linux. Several companies now offer a solution to convert a Windows Desktop to Linux by backing up all the information on the workstation and restoring it to Linux. One such provider is Versora (www.versora.com), which makes a product called Progression Desktop; others include Alacos Migration Agent (www.alacos.com) and Resolvo MoveOver (www.resolvo.com). On the server end, Versora offers utilities to convert Windows IIS and MSSQL to Apache and MySQL, along with others. Migrating to Linux may require a phased-in approach where Linux becomes the platform for most of your applications. Though mission-critical Windows applications may not be ported immediately, the stopgap could be to use Windows-hosted clients in a virtual machine, which is either server-based or on the desktop, depending on the number of workstations that need to run Windows applications. Eventually you may find that these applications can be migrated to Web services or ported to a Java or even a native Linux solution. In the mid term, this best-of-both-worlds approach can ease migration headaches and give you flexible Windows environments that are now network transparent and wrapped by the Linux host operating system to help insulate you from the aforementioned growing security threats.

While you may have answered the technical issues, a user or company must consider the training issues involved. This can get somewhat tricky if you have individuals in your company who have used one operating system for most of their professional career, making them hesitant to make a move to a different system. The personnel transition can be attuned to the late '70s and early '80s when people went from paper to computers. As you now know, most employees have some form of workstation on their desk today, which was unimaginable in the '80s.

It's a hard fact that people fear change but there is one way to overcome this issue and that is education. Education means hands-on training, from the technical staff to the end users. In addition, the training curve may not be as bad as you may suspect. In their 2003 Linux Usability Study Report, Relevantive A,G. (www.linux-usability.de/download/linux_usability_report_en.pdf) found that 92% of participants who were using the Linux desktop environment presented to them stated that it was very easy or quite easy to use, and 8% of respondents said that it was quite difficult to use, which was almost equivalent to the 5% of respondents during the survey who had the same to say about Windows XP. The same study showed that 80% of Linux test participants felt they would reach the same level of competence they had on their current Windows PC.

More Stories By Dianne Ursini

Dianne E. Ursini is the CEO of Technalign, Inc., the company that assists in development and markets TaFusion MEPIS Linux and other Linux software. Dianne has been in IT since 1971 starting with mainframe computers and moving to PCs in the late 70s. Her experience ranges from development, sales, and marketing to consulting.

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