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Running Your Business on Linux

Running Your Business on Linux

As many of our readers already know, all the editors of LinuxWorld Magazine have day jobs where we use Linux and open source. Some like Paul Sterne of Open-Xchange (www.openexchange.com) and Jon Walker of Linux migration specialists, Versora (www.versora.com), work for vendors. Others are practitioners like Matt Frye who manages Solaris-to-Linux migrations for a telecom infrastructure company. That's what I like about LinuxWorld Magazine; you get the unique perspective of not just pundits who are reporting on technology but anecdotal stories about real-life successes (and failures) that benefit our readers.

I am no exception as I recently joined the executive team of Emu Software (www.emusoftware.com), where we specialize in open source configuration management. In my first few weeks there I realized that one of the reasons that Emu was able to start their business was due to their ability to develop their company infrastructure around cost-effective high quality open source technologies. For example, on one of my first visits to the new office I noticed the sales and marketing staff using Fedora Core, OpenOffice.org, and Evolution for the desktop, all working on laptops with wireless cards. I also noticed that they where using VoIP phones handled by their Asterisk (www.asterisk.org) phone switch. Early last year when I was asked by their chief marketing officer, Greg Wallace, about suggestions for a Web site, I pointed them to MamboCMS (www.mamboserver.com). Since the first of the year this has evolved into Joomla! (www.joomla.org), the open source successor to the still active but slightly battered Mambo project. It doesn't stop there: our customer relationships are managed using SugarCRM (www.sugarcrm.com), an open source solution that can be downloaded for free or purchased with service contracts. Over time I plan to upgrade to their commercial versions, but at this early stage we have the option to build our company as we see fit as there are no costly upgrade cycles or restrictive licenses to drive our decisions. You see, flexibility is what I like, as our revenues grow and we need features we can add to these solutions, but on our terms not the vendor's.

I also compare our situation to the alternatives that many business are saddled with. Many people use PCs pre-installed with Windows and Microsoft Office, and file and print services provided by Microsoft Small Business Server and the corresponding CALS (client access licenses) and Microsoft Exchange. Upgrade cycles for commercial software can often outpace the upgrade cycle of the business and expenses become a function of someone else's schedule, not mine. This doesn't apply only to hardware and software for your IT systems. Many of these organizations are using conventional phone switches or PBXs that hang on the wall in a back room and come complete with a service contract from a qualified provider and proprietary phones (with my VoIP solution I can shop around for the best deal that utilizes an open standard). Not to mention voice mail storage, which was once a costly proposition, is as simple as adding a hard drive. Those of you who have purchased such equipment know they can easily cost thousands of dollars. Or maybe your costs lie in a CRM solution in which small groups may use a multi-user copy of ACT or GoldMine. Others may pay annual per-user fees for hosted solutions like Salesforce.com. It doesn't stop there, as many use even more expensive options, such as enterprise solutions complete with the corresponding database seat licensing. Nothing is wrong with these packages; it's just a matter of whether you are getting a good value out of the money you spend.

As I started to figure the other alternatives to this open source infrastructure, I realized that we probably wouldn't be in business or even couldn't be in business without having these open source tools to make our software and deliver it to our customers. It wouldn't be possible to reach out to global customers without the power of digital collaboration provided by the Internet and run largely with free and open source software. I also became aware that while we see the Linux success stories of Google, Amazon, and eBay, there our thousands if not millions of untold stories of how small businesses are becoming competitive due to the power of the Internet and open source. So I thought maybe I would make sure there was one less unheralded open source tale. As I write this editorial using OpenOffice.org and check facts using Mozilla Firefox, I wonder what story will surface next and hope that our readers take the opportunity to drop us an e-mail to share their successes. Maybe it's a school or a local government or a company that is far removed from the production of information technology such as a textile mill or service agency. Maybe it's a piece of software you developed and released under an open source license. Whatever your open source success story, we would like to hear from you, so drop us an e-mail.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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