Welcome!

Linux Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, Trevor Parsons, Elizabeth White, Lori MacVittie, Peter Silva

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
    The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.
    Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have spoken with, or attended presentations from, utilities in the United States, South America, Asia and Europe. This session will provide a look at the CREPE drivers for SmartGrids and the solution spaces used by SmartGrids today and planned for the near future. All organizations can learn from SmartGrid’s use of Predictive Maintenance, Demand Prediction, Cloud, Big Data and Customer-facing Dashboards...
    IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, will discuss the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. The presentation will also discuss how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics to discuss are barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold.
    Whether you're a startup or a 100 year old enterprise, the Internet of Things offers a variety of new capabilities for your business. IoT style solutions can help you get closer your customers, launch new product lines and take over an industry. Some companies are dipping their toes in, but many have already taken the plunge, all while dramatic new capabilities continue to emerge. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Reid Carlberg, Senior Director, Developer Evangelism at salesforce.com, to discuss real-world use cases, patterns and opportunities you can harness today.
    All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices – computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors – connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be!
    Noted IoT expert and researcher Joseph di Paolantonio (pictured below) has joined the @ThingsExpo faculty. Joseph, who describes himself as an “Independent Thinker” from DataArchon, will speak on the topic of “Smart Grids & Managing Big Utilities.” Over his career, Joseph di Paolantonio has worked in the energy, renewables, aerospace, telecommunications, and information technology industries. His expertise is in data analysis, system engineering, Bayesian statistics, data warehouses, business intelligence, data mining, predictive methods, and very large databases (VLDB). Prior to DataArchon, he served as a VP and Principal Analyst with Constellation Group. He is a member of the Boulder (Colo.) Brain Trust, an organization with a mission “to benefit the Business Intelligence and data management industry by providing pro bono exchange of information between vendors and independent analysts on new trends and technologies and to provide vendors with constructive feedback on their of...
    Software AG helps organizations transform into Digital Enterprises, so they can differentiate from competitors and better engage customers, partners and employees. Using the Software AG Suite, companies can close the gap between business and IT to create digital systems of differentiation that drive front-line agility. We offer four on-ramps to the Digital Enterprise: alignment through collaborative process analysis; transformation through portfolio management; agility through process automation and integration; and visibility through intelligent business operations and big data.
    There will be 50 billion Internet connected devices by 2020. Today, every manufacturer has a propriety protocol and an app. How do we securely integrate these "things" into our lives and businesses in a way that we can easily control and manage? Even better, how do we integrate these "things" so that they control and manage each other so our lives become more convenient or our businesses become more profitable and/or safe? We have heard that the best interface is no interface. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Co-Founder & CTO at Octoblu, Inc., will discuss how these devices generate enough data to learn our behaviors and simplify/improve our lives. What if we could connect everything to everything? I'm not only talking about connecting things to things but also systems, cloud services, and people. Add in a little machine learning and artificial intelligence and now we have something interesting...
    Last week, while in San Francisco, I used the Uber app and service four times. All four experiences were great, although one of the drivers stopped for 30 seconds and then left as I was walking up to the car. He must have realized I was a blogger. None the less, the next car was just a minute away and I suffered no pain. In this article, my colleague, Ved Sen, Global Head, Advisory Services Social, Mobile and Sensors at Cognizant shares his experiences and insights.
    We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) irreversibly encoded. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, will look at how this identity problem can be solved and discuss ways to use existing web identities for real-time communication.
    Can call centers hang up the phones for good? Intuitive Solutions did. WebRTC enabled this contact center provider to eliminate antiquated telephony and desktop phone infrastructure with a pure web-based solution, allowing them to expand beyond brick-and-mortar confines to a home-based agent model. It also ensured scalability and better service for customers, including MUY! Companies, one of the country's largest franchise restaurant companies with 232 Pizza Hut locations. This is one example of WebRTC adoption today, but the potential is limitless when powered by IoT. Attendees will learn real-world benefits of WebRTC and explore future possibilities, as WebRTC and IoT intersect to improve customer service.
    From telemedicine to smart cars, digital homes and industrial monitoring, the explosive growth of IoT has created exciting new business opportunities for real time calls and messaging. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Ivelin Ivanov, CEO and Co-Founder of Telestax, will share some of the new revenue sources that IoT created for Restcomm – the open source telephony platform from Telestax. Ivelin Ivanov is a technology entrepreneur who founded Mobicents, an Open Source VoIP Platform, to help create, deploy, and manage applications integrating voice, video and data. He is the co-founder of TeleStax, an Open Source Cloud Communications company that helps the shift from legacy IN/SS7 telco networks to IP-based cloud comms. An early investor in multiple start-ups, he still finds time to code for his companies and contribute to open source projects.
    The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to create new business models as significant as those that were inspired by the Internet and the smartphone 20 and 10 years ago. What business, social and practical implications will this phenomenon bring? That's the subject of "Monetizing the Internet of Things: Perspectives from the Front Lines," an e-book released today and available free of charge from Aria Systems, the leading innovator in recurring revenue management.
    The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges.
    There’s Big Data, then there’s really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at 6th Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, to discuss how IoT, Big Data and deployments are processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other machines.
    P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Erik Lagerway, Co-founder of Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services to the modern P2P RTC era of OTT cloud assisted services.
    While great strides have been made relative to the video aspects of remote collaboration, audio technology has basically stagnated. Typically all audio is mixed to a single monaural stream and emanates from a single point, such as a speakerphone or a speaker associated with a video monitor. This leads to confusion and lack of understanding among participants especially regarding who is actually speaking. Spatial teleconferencing introduces the concept of acoustic spatial separation between conference participants in three dimensional space. This has been shown to significantly improve comprehension and conference efficiency.
    The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, will discuss single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example to explain some of these concepts including when to use different storage models.
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in software-defined storage (SDS) purpose-built for Windows Servers and Hyper-V, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Gridstore™ is the leader in software-defined storage purpose built for virtualization that is designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Using its patented Server-Side Virtual Controller™ Technology (SVCT) to eliminate the I/O blender effect and accelerate applications Gridstore delivers vmOptimized™ Storage that self-optimizes to each application or VM across both virtual and physical environments. Leveraging a grid architecture, Gridstore delivers the first end-to-end storage QoS to ensure the most important App or VM performance is never compromised. The storage grid, that uses Gridstore’s performance optimized nodes or capacity optimized nodes, starts with as few a...
    The Transparent Cloud-computing Consortium (abbreviation: T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data processing High speed and high quality networks, and dramatic improvements in computer processing capabilities, have greatly changed the nature of applications and made the storing and processing of data on the network commonplace. These technological reforms have not only changed computers and smartphones, but are also changing the data processing model for all information devices. In particular, in the area known as M2M (Machine-To-Machine), there are great expectations that information with a new type of value can be produced using a variety of devices and sensors saving/sharing data via the network and through large-scale cloud-type data processing. This consortium believes that attaching a huge number of devic...