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Software Company Saves $400-$500 Per Desktop

Mindbridge CEO Scott Testa remembers his epiphany

Mindbridge, the makers of IntraSmart, a software suite for intranet applications, always purchased PC clones for desktop machines. The cost of the hardware came to about $250 each, without the operating system. Testa suddenly realized that they spent twice as much on the desktop software as they did on the hardware, including the operating system, office suite, and Windows client access licenses. He knew something was wrong with this picture. Through a gradual process, almost all of the 50+ employees are now running a Linux desktop.

A Bottom-Up Organic Process

For Mindbridge, the impetus to migrate began with the system administrators. Light unofficial use of Linux in the organization early on gave some of the IT staff a chance to get some experience. Linux began to spread on the server side as the company grew, then some technical users wanted Linux workstations. Eventually, Red Hat Linux on the desktop became standard issue for the technical users. A few reluctant technical users were given two desktops, one Windows and one Red Hat Linux, with a KVM switch (a "keyboard, video, mouse" switch - a box that allows a single set of peripherals to be used with multiple computers) to help them make the transition. It was a useful crutch for Windows users getting used to the Linux desktop.

Testa acknowledges that it has become easier over time to migrate people to Linux, and he sees almost no resistance to the change now. All staff in support, sales/telemarketing, and administration are now using Linux on the desktop - some Linspire, most Red Hat. The last users to move from Windows were the telemarketers, who used a CRM package that only ran on Windows. Their CRM vendor happened to be in the process of migrating development from a Windows-specific client to a browser-based client. The telemarketers were able to migrate once the new CRM client was released, since the new client was platform-neutral.

The biggest problem Testa has seen in Mindbridge's move to open source has been compatibility between OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office. Early on, they had trouble opening complex Word documents sent to them from outside the company. He says that these problems are decreasing now that OpenOffice.org is more mature. He has always liked the easier PDF generation of OpenOffice.org, though, and considers it more professional to send to customers than the Word format.

Software Development on Linux

Software development is Mindbridge's core business, and they trust it to Linux and open source programmers' tools. As a Java shop, they have standardized on IBM's Eclipse development environment and CVS for source code control. Most of what they utilize is either free or low cost, and they found that they didn't need to sacrifice the quality of the tools to realize the cost savings. The programmers have mostly been using Red Hat since 1998. One caveat they have discovered is that, for the programmers' tools they are using, Linux takes more memory than an equivalent Windows workstation.

Doing the Practical Thing

At Mindbridge, they don't view themselves as Microsoft bashers or Linux zealots. It was a matter of simple economics. Testa estimates that they save between $400-$500 per new desktop by using Linux. As the company grows and desktop machines are purchased for new employees, Linux has become the practical choice. Testa believes that open source migration was easier for them as a software company because they are relatively tech-savvy. Being a fairly young company, they also lacked the legacy systems that tie many organizations to Windows. The primary driving force has been the cost.

For Mindbridge, movement in the IT industry toward browser-based clients helped them migrate to Linux. According to Testa, "Open source is not a fad - it's a trend, especially with vendors releasing browser-based products. Who cares what the underlying operating system is when the applications are delivered over the Web!"

.  .  .

(This article is excerpted from the author's upcoming book, The Manager's Guide to Open Source, Manning Publications, September 2004.)

SIDEBAR

Open Source Utilized

Mindbridge achieved savings of between $400-$500 per desktop with a wide scale migration to Linux.

Open source products used are:

  • Red Hat Linux for most desktops
  • Lindows for some desktops
  • OpenOffice.org office suite
  • Evolution e-mail client
  • IBM's Eclipse Java development environment
  • CVS source code control

More Stories By Maria Winslow

Maria Winslow is the author of The Practical Manager's Guide to Open Source, available at http://www.lulu.com/practicalGuide and can be contacted at [email protected]

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