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Windows-to-Linux Desktop Migration Road Map

Managing application settings, system settings, and data

International Data Corporation (IDC) released a study in December 2004 noting that the worldwide Linux market for PCs, servers, and software will hit $35 billion by 2008. There's a general industry consensus that we're at the brink of a major Windows-to-Linux migration. However, with all the high-level discussion, there has not yet been much attention paid to the practical steps of moving from a Windows desktop to a Linux desktop. This article serves as a road map, outlining how to perform both a manual and an automated desktop migration.

Prep Steps: Advance Planning

In planning a desktop migration, it is essential to determine whether or not Linux supports applications comparable to those currently in use on the Windows desktop. First, determine which applications are critical to your migration. Next, consider equivalent or corollary applications for your new Linux environment. For example, will OpenOffice.org replace MS Office? Will Novell Evolution or Mozilla Mail replace MS Outlook? Last, determine which of these applications must be ported, either through reengineering, modification, or a third-party application that allows a Windows application to run natively on Linux.

The next step is to choose your Linux graphical desktop environment, distribution, and Web browser. First, you should decide on a Linux distribution. There are many distributions available, including, but not limited to, Novell Linux Desktop (NLD), SUSE LINUX Pro, Red Hat Desktop (RHD), Xandros Desktop OS, Mandrake, and Turbolinux Desktop. Next, determine the graphical desktop environment - KDE or GNOME. Each user interface has its merits: SUSE LINUX defaults to KDE and Red Hat defaults to GNOME. Finally, consider which Web browser to use. Linux Web browsers include Firefox, Konqueror, and Mozilla.

If your organization uses personal digital assistants (PDAs), such as Palm Pilots or Pocket PCs, look into available enterprise support within your new Linux environment, specifically with regard to PDA syncing.

You also need to formulate a plan for the hardware on which your Linux desktop will run. Do you plan to buy new hardware or to utilize what you already have? Can Linux work on the hardware you are currently using? One of the advantages of Linux is that it runs well on older hardware, performing better than Microsoft Windows in this respect. Newer hardware can present challenges with Linux because, to date, there is typically no support "out of the box." However, companies such as HP, IBM, and Dell are improving their support for Linux.

Prior to performing the migration, you must consider how you plan to set up machines for your users. You must decide whether data will be stored on the network or locally. If data is to be stored on a network, perhaps a Linux thin client would be most suitable for your organization. However, if you have many laptop users, or other users who aren't always connected to the network server, a Linux rich client is more appropriate. It is also important to consider the access rights of a desktop user. Is software installation done by network administrators only? Who can access directories on the network? How do users interact with applications and programs?

Additionally, habitual concerns, such as supporting upgrades, patches, and backup, have corollaries on the new Linux machine and should be planned for accordingly.

Manual Desktop Migration

After the planning process has been completed and you've determined everything you need on the new Linux environment, including application compatibility, it is recommended that a pilot migration (1-25 seats) be conducted. This trial will allow you to recognize any technical difficulties that may exist and that may need to be addressed before deployment across the organization takes place. You should budget up to one day of work for one worker per machine. Given enough practice and experience, one worker may be able to complete two or three machines each day.

OpenOffice
Custom dictionaries make a good starting point for a migration to OpenOffice. It is not possible to use the dictionaries from Microsoft Office because the format is slightly different. To grab custom dictionaries from Microsoft Word, first find the dictionaries in use by selecting Tools->Options from within Word, selecting the Spelling & Grammar tab, and then clicking Custom Dictionaries. Here you'll find a list of all your dictionaries (most of which will be in the user's Application Data directory, under the subfolder Microsoft\Proof). Copy all the dictionaries to the Linux machine and open them in OpenOffice. (Since the Word dictionary has just one word per line, the dictionary will open as a plain text file under OpenOffice.) Now run a spell check (from Tools->Spellcheck->Check) and repeatedly click the Add button. This will add the custom words into the new custom dictionary.

It is also important to migrate macros. Your migration will depend on how many macros you have and how complex they are. OpenOffice has its own macro format, which is similar but not identical to that of Microsoft Office. You will most likely have to treat macro migration as you'd treat the migration of an application, setting aside some time for rewriting and testing.

Many other Microsoft Office settings have equivalent configurations in OpenOffice. In most cases, default settings will be adequate for the majority of users. Some settings, however, may be configured so that all documents produced from a company follow the same theme. For example, you'll want to look into settings for Styles (available in Format->Styles & Formatting in Microsoft Word, and Format ->Styles->Catalog in OpenOffice Writer) and Templates (saved as .dot files for Microsoft Word and .stw files for OpenOffice).

Finally, in order to maintain productivity, you will probably want to configure toolbars and keyboard shortcuts to be as similar to those in the old environment as possible. The toolbars from Word are easily visible and toolbars in OpenOffice may be changed by going to Tools->Configure, selecting the Toolbars tab, highlighting the toolbar to be edited, and clicking the customize button. Keyboard shortcuts can be found in Word by selecting Tools-> Customize and then clicking on the Keyboard button; in OpenOffice, use Tools ->Customize and then the Keyboard tab. As these settings are quite numerous, it might be best not to customize them for each user. Instead, determine a standard toolbar and keyboard layout, then, before migration, copy the company standard OpenOffice settings folder (which, depending on the version, is ~/.openoffice, ~/.xopenoffice, or ~/OpenOffice-version) to each machine.

E-mail/Contacts/Calendars/Tasks
Bluntly put, work does not get done without e-mail. The successful migration of e-mail (along with contacts, calendars, and tasks) is therefore of the utmost importance. If you are using (and plan to continue using) a Microsoft Exchange Server with Microsoft Outlook clients, you'll want to migrate your clients to Novell Evolution and use the Exchange connector. Setup of the accounts and the migration should be automatic, since all data resides on the server. This process is similar for GroupWise - just use the GroupWise connector for Evolution. For both Exchange and GroupWise, you'll want to check that users are storing mail on the server and not on their local hard drives.

If your e-mail is provided via an IMAP server, most e-mail will migrate automatically. However, you'll have to manually move contacts, calendars, tasks, and any e-mail residing on the local hard drive (such as sent mail, drafts, or other saved messages). If you're using a POP server, you will have to migrate everything manually.

There is an open source product called Outport (http://outport.sourceforge.net) that can help you migrate from Microsoft Outlook to Evolution. Outport migrates most but not all data. On the Linux side, you'll have to set up accounts again and use Evolution import features to import data. You can visit the Outport homepage for further procedural details.

Data
Perhaps of an importance second only to e-mail, files must also be migrated to the user's new machine. If your organization already has a policy of keeping documents on a network share, this step is simple: set up the reference to the new network share. Otherwise, if you're migrating to network-based storage (either on a Samba server or using Novell's iFolder), you'll want to copy the documents from Windows to the network share, then simply set up the share on Linux. Or, if you're still going to keep documents based on local hard drives, you'll need to copy all the documents over the network in some way. The simplest method is to begin by enabling sharing on the Windows machine for each folder that needs to be copied. Next, use the graphical tools (Konqueror on KDE and Nautilus on GNOME) to browse to those shares and copy the files locally. When copying files to the Linux machine, most files should be copied to a subfolder of the user's home directory.

Web Browsers
The easiest way to migrate from Internet Explorer to Firefox is to use Firefox's built-in import feature. First, install and launch Firefox on the original Windows machine. A prompt will ask if you'd like to import settings from Internet Explorer (click yes). Next, copy the Firefox profile (this is the folder named Mozilla, found in the user's Application Data directory) over to the Linux machine and put it in the user's home directory. You must, however, rename the folder .mozilla (the "." at the beginning means that the folder won't show up in most directory listings and is a required part of the file name). You may need to change permissions on the folder so it can be accessed by the user. Now, set up Firefox to have the appropriate extensions and plug-ins, such as Flash, Java, and anything else the user will need on a daily basis.

Desktop/Background/Look & Feel
Most noticeable to many end users is the wallpaper migration. To migrate the wallpaper, first find its location on Windows. (In the registry, browse to the key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop and look up the value Wallpaper. Or, if the user was using an Active Desktop wallpaper, find the Wallpaper value in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Desktop\General.) Copy the file over to Linux (preferably to somewhere in the user's home directory). If you're using Gnome, set the wallpaper by right-clicking on the desktop and choosing Change Desktop Background, then clicking Add Wallpaper. If you're using KDE, choose Configure Desktop, select the Background tab, and click on the file dialog button for the picture.

The KDE desktop can be made to look and feel just like Windows, with fewer dramatic differences than those found between Microsoft Windows 95 and XP. For instance, the Redmond theme uses similar colors and nearly identical shapes for the Minimize, Maximize, and Close buttons in Windows 2000 (the theme can be set from KDE's Control Center, under Appearance & Themes->Window Decorations). Likewise, the Redmond Splash Screen provides a Login screen that is familiar to Windows XP users. Other possibilities include using different icons, changing the look of the clock, and choosing among mouse pointer settings.

You may wish to make Linux look just like Windows, or you may decide to use some features that are unique to Linux. For instance, double-clicking the title bar can be configured to maximize and minimize the window exactly as in Windows (which is now the default on many Linux distributions). However, many long-time Linux users prefer the historical default "roll up" setting. Additionally, the GNOME desktop defaults to having the Applications menu and launchers on the top of the screen, leaving more room for the list of currently open windows on the bottom.

Instant Messaging (IM)
If you're using a protocol where the buddy list resides on the server, simply set up accounts on the new Linux environment. Assuming the user name is tied to the corporate login, you can simply set up the new account. Otherwise, you'll want to launch the IM client on Windows to see what the user name was, and let the user enter his or her password the first time IM is used in the new system. Some examples of instant messaging applications supported on Linux include AIM, Jabber, and Gaim.

Automated Migration

There is a variety of software migration tools that save significant resources and technician time when moving from the Windows desktop to the Linux desktop. Two examples of these tools are Versora's Progression Desktop and Alacos' Linux Migration Agent. Customer surveys have indicated that an IT staff can migrate 20-25 machines (including testing) in eight hours if Progression Desktop is run on each machine. Reports also indicate that using Progression Desktop in conjunction with a systems management suite (such as ZENworks) can enable one technician to migrate up to 100 machines over the same eight-hour period. Compared to a manual migration, in which it takes one technician eight hours to migrate and test between one and three machines, an automated migration is a very attractive solution.

The Linux Desktop Has Arrived!

If the recent migrations of high-profile global enterprises, municipalities, and universities are any indication, it's safe to say that the Windows-to-Linux desktop migration trend is gaining momentum daily. Given the growing frustration with Microsoft's licensing fees, inflexibility, security flaws, etc., organizations are becoming more and more open to alternatives. At the very least, IT staffs will be looking to support mixed environments.

Whether you choose to begin a pilot project for your corporation or on your home network, I think you will be happily surprised by the results. Performing this migration with one of the automated tools previously mentioned will make your migration run even more smoothly. Wishing you good migrations!

SIDEBAR

Automated Migration

Step 1: Create a Platform Neutral Package
Insert the Progression Desktop CD and run through the install wizard. You will be prompted to choose which applications and systems settings you wish to migrate from. When you have chosen, click next. You'll now be prompted to choose which files to move, either by selecting files manually or via powerful filters. When you're finished, click next. A prompt will now ask you to choose where to put the PNP file. Choose and click next. Progression Desktop will now create a Platform Neutral Package (PNP). This process may take anywhere from five minutes to two hours. Though not required, it is faster if the PNP is copied on the local machine. Note that these time estimates apply to computer time, not technician time. This step requires approximately 10 minutes of technician time per machine.

Step 2: Migration
Make the PNP file accessible to the Linux machine by enabling file sharing on the servers (recommended easiest method), by using a remote file server (most secure method), or by using burned CDs. Put the Progression Desktop CD into the Linux machine. Browse to the CD and double-click on ProgressionDesktop.sh. Enter a password if prompted, as Progression Desktop may need to install some dependencies. Follow the wizard instructions and select the PNP file.

Next, a prompt will ask you to choose either an express or custom migration. An express migration automatically uses default settings. Custom migration will let you choose application destinations, new file paths for stored documents, and other, more advanced settings. After the express or custom migration step is completed, hit next and the data will be applied. If performed locally, the migration step should take between five minutes and two-and-a-half hours. If done over a network connection, this step will take longer. Keep in mind that the automated migration requires only about 10 minutes of technician time per machine, while a manual migration requires eight hours of technician time.

More Stories By Jon Walker

Jon Walker serves as CTO of Versora, an ISV providing Microsoft to Linux migration software. Mr. Walker recently has co-authored 2 whitepapers with Novell titled Migrating from IS Web Servers to Apache SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 9.0 and Migrating File and Print Servers from Windows to SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 9. Prior to Versora, Mr. Walker was CTO/VP of Engineering for Miramar Systems. Software developed under his direction at Miramar has been deployed to over 20 million computers worldwide. Mr. Walker has also served as senior technologist for Nortel and Xing Technology (now Real Networks).

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