Welcome!

Linux Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, AppDynamics Blog, Lori MacVittie, Pete Pickerill, Charles Jolley

Related Topics: Linux

Linux: Article

Migrating the Desktop from NT to Linux

Commitment from your team is the key to success

At the end of 2004, Microsoft will stop supporting Windows NT. At that point, anyone using Windows NT will have several choices: follow Microsoft's upgrade path to Windows 2003, continue to use Windows NT without Microsoft support, or switch to Linux.

Switching to Linux is the cheapest, safest alternative, according to such companies as Tramp Trampolines and Polyscientific Enterprise Sdn. Bhd, a distributor of chemical and industrial products. Both of these companies made successful migrations from Windows NT to Linux and are happily using Linux as a desktop today, bringing them cost savings and greater stability.

This article examines the Windows-to-Linux path for organizations using Windows NT as a desktop. We'll look at the first step, taking stock of the current situation, and then look at the choices that have to be made based on that. Then we'll look at the migration process and examine some of the problems and successes organizations have faced in making migrations work. Also covered are some of the recent technologies such as Live CDs and WINE (www.winehq.org), Win4Lin (www.netraverse.com), as well as application equivalents and data conversion tools that make migration less painful, such as Rekall (www.totalrekall.co.uk).

Convincing the Business

The first step in any successful migration is to have a solid commitment from the decision makers. Every migration I have ever been involved in has strongly resembled an ungodly combination of a train wreck and a bar fight. It takes a clear plan (fail to plan, plan to fail) and a lot of willpower combined with flexibility to get through to the end while reducing to a minimum the amount of bloodshed along the way. Without real buy-in by the decision makers it's not just difficult, it's impossible.

It's crucial to understand as well that not all the decision makers are in the boardroom - it's best to have a core of active supporters as a core team and a majority who are at least passive supporters of the migration effort. A little education and communication up front will go a long way in reducing the costs of the project and ensuring the active, willing cooperation of your core team. This is the second step in a successful migration. When I say core team, I don't mean the experts that may be brought in to install and train users; I mean users who have bought into the new technologies and are willing to put out the extra effort needed to carry it through. You'll need them.

Identifying the Task at Hand

The third step in a successful migration is to take stock of the current state of the shop. You'll need to answer these questions:
  • What are our key applications?
  • What dependencies do they create?
  • Who are our key users?
  • How big is the job?
Many tools are available to do software inventory on the high end of things (see www.trackbird.com and www.expressmetrix.com/faq/software_inventory.asp). On the less-expensive end, Syslist (www.syslist.com) and AIDA32 (www.aida32.hu/aida-features.php?bit=32) are available.

Once you have the answers to these questions you'll be in a position to conduct a systems triage. In a systems triage you divide your key applications into those that can be replaced by functional equivalents, those that cannot be replaced, and those that must be converted in detail. An example of the first group might be a word-processing package - OpenOffice, for example, can replace Microsoft Word.

The second group comprises two categories: applications that are unacceptably expensive to replace because of reengineering or retraining costs, and applications that cannot be replaced because of external requirements. A company may find that the retraining costs for moving people from Adobe Photoshop to the GIMP are unacceptably high, for example. Or they may have a requirement to provide material in certain formats that they cannot modify, such as a supplier whose largest customer stipulates that certain information must be transferred using Access or Excel.

The last group encompasses the "homegrown" components of the desktop system, such as Word macros or Visual Basic utilities, which would need to be rewritten in a new package.

This last group is where most of the migration "gotchas" lurk, and early identification of them is critical. Although zealots on both sides will often try to show that the choice between Windows and Linux is all or nothing, this isn't true in most cases. There is a set of technologies that allow Windows applications to be run on Linux. There are a lot of options here, from WINE, CodeWeavers (www.codeweavers.com), and Win4Lin, which provide a basic environment for executing Windows applications directly within Linux, through to full operating system emulation environments such as VMWare (www.vmware.com).

These technologies are quite solid and when properly applied can give you the best of both worlds. Users use applications, and applications use operating systems, so a solution that gives the users applications that they can work with and the applications a stable, secure operating system may be the best solution - or at least one that gives you a little more breathing space.

Building the New Environment

Once the analysis is done, you'll be in a position to make evaluations that will lead to firm decisions about the specific technologies and packages you'll be using. This is an area where open source stops being an abstract and becomes a serious business advantage. You don't need to buy a pig in a poke - you can get several pigs and make them jump through hoops for a very low cost.

If you take advantage of Linux on bootable CD technologies such as KNOPPIX, you can reduce the cost of testing and evaluation significantly. For example, rather than setting up a test machine or network and moving over a typical set of material, you can simply boot your existing machines with KNOPPIX and try opening your existing Word documents with OpenOffice.

Your core users can try things like switching over to Linux and falling back to Windows when required. There are also a lot of resources for choosing Windows application equivalents on Linux and many articles describing Windows-to-Linux migration in general.

The best guide I've found is the Migration Guide put out by KBSt Publication Service, a 441-page PDF containing a thorough and well-written analysis sure to be useful to anyone looking at this.

The absence of license fees and ready availability of much of the software sharply reduces the cost of doing an incremental migration. The variety among Linux distributions is an advantage here, rather than a liability, because no matter what your existing hardware base is, you'll be able to find a distribution that will run on it. If the one you find can't do what you want, you'll be able to determine the needed upgrades much more exactly than by simply taking a minimum requirements list from a vendor's sales material. On the other hand, if you want to obtain professional services to assist your evaluation, companies such as IBM (www-1.ibm.com/linux) and Racemi (www.racemi.com) offer consulting services in this area.

I haven't found any products designed specifically for assisting desktop migrations; however, two tools I often recommend are OpenOffice and Rekall. OpenOffice's ability to read Word and Excel formats and write a variety of formats make it an ideal replacement for the Windows equivalents, while Rekall allows you to read an Access database via ODBC and write that data to PostgreSQL, MySQL, or a number of other databases. For the vast majority of desktop systems this will allow you to transfer the user data.

In situations where you cannot easily transfer data, you may have to change your approach to looking for an equivalent or compatible software package. For example, Polyscientific Enterprise had a problem with Lotus Smartsheet documents not being readable by OpenOffice, and reassessed their business problem to look for a solution within another package.

You can use one of the methods described previously to run a Windows application on Linux. In any event, when you have decided on the correct mix of application packages, make sure they can work together. Having your core team perform interoperability testing by actually moving real data around and verifying the results is the best way to discover problems. Once again, solutions such as Knoppix can be a real help at this point.

Realizing the Migration

So, after you've gotten a solid commitment, decided on your migration plan, assembled the core team, and assembled and tested your solution, you're faced with training and supporting your end users. Some suggestions to make this easier:
  • Try to do it a few users at a time, or one functional group at a time.
  • Evaluate the material available for free from places such as Openoffice.org, and make this material available through an internal Web application such as a forum or a Wiki.
  • Set up a Web-based training package such as Moodle (www.moodle.org).
  • If you can, make your core team available to help people out.
  • Test your chosen architecture and software suite and ensure that it fulfils your functional requirements.
  • Test the interoperability of your new solutions with your legacy systems and verify that they work in a production environment before you commit them organization-wide.
  • Test your training and documentation setup using typical users with no previous background. Remember that if people can't be brought up to speed on the new solutions in a cost-effective way, it won't work.
  • Expect problems. Testing will reduce, but not eliminate, them and you'll have to react quickly while under a great deal of stress

Summary

People and commitment are the key to a successful migration. If you have them you can succeed - and if you can take advantage of the open source edge, you can do it for a lot less. Migrations are always a high-stress activity and desktop migration is particularly so because it forces users to cope with more-visible changes than, for example, upgrading an e-mail server. Careful goal definition, planning, solution evaluation, and end-user training are all critical components, as is a dedicated core team and a step-by-step approach. The lower cost, greater interoperability, and greater flexibility of open source technologies, when used properly as part of well-thought-out and coordinated plan, will get you to the end of your migration path with a stable, secure, and lower-cost desktop.

References

  • "The Wrong Choice: After picking NT, Trampoline firm leaps to Linux": http://searchenterpriselinux.techtarget.com/ originalContent/0,289142,sid39_gci905078,00.html
  • "Open Source in SME Migration to Linux": http://opensource.mimos.my/fosscon2003cd/paper/slides/11_seah_hong_yee.pdf
  • Windows application equivalents on Linux: http://linuxshop.ru/linuxbegin/win-lin-soft-en/table.shtml
  • Switch to Linux: http://switch.demoni.ca
  • Linux for Microsoft Windows Users: http://mozillaquest.com/indexes/Linux4Windows_index.html
  • KBst Migration Guide: www.bmi.bund.de/downloadde/25072/Download_englisch.pdf
  • More Stories By Rob Sutherland

    Rob Sutherland is an independent consultant in Toronto, specializing in providing support, analysis, and implementation assistance to small and medium-size companies moving into open source. For the past 25 years he has worked as a programmer, systems analyst, and IT support person for clients ranging from startups to state and federal governments. You can find out more about Rob at www.cheapersafer.com.

    Comments (1) View Comments

    Share your thoughts on this story.

    Add your comment
    You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

    In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


    Most Recent Comments
    John Dean 08/24/04 03:42:32 AM EDT

    Hi
    I would like to add a little additional information which has not yet found its way into many of the recent article which include information of Rekall's feature list. There two new features which are presently being worked on. The first is "Rekall On The Web". The idea is the web enable Rekall Forms and Reports. This will allow users to produce either traditional desktop GUI database applications or to produce data driven web based applications. For more details on this particular feature please visit the Total Rekall web portal at http://www.totalrekall.co.uk. The second feature is the produce a MS Access to Rekall conversion utility. This feature will likely form the basis of a commercial Enterprise Edition. The idea is to scan an Access mdb file and exact data and meta data such that an Access application can be re-created in Rekall's native format. In order for us to produce these features quickly we will need sponsorship, so that we can devote 100% of our time to the project.

    @ThingsExpo Stories
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, phone and digital TV services to consumers primarily in rural areas.
    The BPM world is going through some evolution or changes where traditional business process management solutions really have nowhere to go in terms of development of the road map. In this demo at 15th Cloud Expo, Kyle Hansen, Director of Professional Services at AgilePoint, shows AgilePoint’s unique approach to dealing with this market circumstance by developing a rapid application composition or development framework.
    The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
    "BSQUARE is in the business of selling software solutions for smart connected devices. It's obvious that IoT has moved from being a technology to being a fundamental part of business, and in the last 18 months people have said let's figure out how to do it and let's put some focus on it, " explained Dave Wagstaff, VP & Chief Architect, at BSQUARE Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
    The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com), moderated by Ashar Baig, Research Director, Cloud, at Gigaom Research, Nate Gordon, Director of T...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that IDenticard will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. IDenticard™ is the security division of Brady Corp (NYSE: BRC), a $1.5 billion manufacturer of identification products. We have small-company values with the strength and stability of a major corporation. IDenticard offers local sales, support and service to our customers across the United States and Canada. Our partner network encompasses some 300 of the world's leading systems integrators and security s...

    ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...

    “In the past year we've seen a lot of stabilization of WebRTC. You can now use it in production with a far greater degree of certainty. A lot of the real developments in the past year have been in things like the data channel, which will enable a whole new type of application," explained Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
    DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
    "People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
    Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, at more than US$500 billion, and ranks 23rd in the world. A recent re-evaluation of Nigeria's true economic size doubled the previous estimate, and brought it well ahead of South Africa, which is a member (unlike Nigeria) of the G20 club for political as well as economic reasons. Nigeria's economy can be said to be quite diverse from one point of view, but heavily dependent on oil and gas at the same time. Oil and natural gas account for about 15% of Nigera's overall economy, but traditionally represent more than 90% of the country's exports and as...
    The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Bagnulo, Solution Architect / Software Engineer at SOA Software, focused on desi...
    "At our booth we are showing how to provide trust in the Internet of Things. Trust is where everything starts to become secure and trustworthy. Now with the scaling of the Internet of Things it becomes an interesting question – I've heard numbers from 200 billion devices next year up to a trillion in the next 10 to 15 years," explained Johannes Lintzen, Vice President of Sales at Utimaco, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
    "For over 25 years we have been working with a lot of enterprise customers and we have seen how companies create applications. And now that we have moved to cloud computing, mobile, social and the Internet of Things, we see that the market needs a new way of creating applications," stated Jesse Shiah, CEO, President and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
    Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...
    We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
    Code Halos - aka "digital fingerprints" - are the key organizing principle to understand a) how dumb things become smart and b) how to monetize this dynamic. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions, outlined research, analysis and recommendations from his recently published book on this phenomena on the way leading edge organizations like GE and Disney are unlocking the Internet of Things opportunity and what steps your organization should be taking to position itself for the next platform of digital competition.
    The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
    As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP's Printing and Personal Systems Group, discussed how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, sensors, social, and ...