The Penguin Driven Church Office

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Whether, why and how religious groups should migrate to Linux.
How We Use Linux

We use Linux for general use, mostly as a desktop workstation. We use OpenOffice.org (OOo) and Mozilla for Web browsing and e-mail. We are developing our own church management system, using MySQL and PHP. For the time being, we manage our data on a spreadsheet. But, we're looking to the future, when we'll have a need to move our data into a real database.

OpenOffice.org offers some serious advantages over other office suites. We can connect directly to a variety of database servers to retrieve our data into Calc, the spreadsheet feature, or Writer. If we want, we then can export that data to Adobe Acrobat's PDF format. Data storage is not a big deal these days, but my Writer documents are a good bit smaller than their proprietary equivalents.

Mozilla's Web browser offers tabbed browsing. Ever since I experienced Quarterdeck Mosaic, I have prayed for tabbed browsing. Mozilla and its variants offer it; probably most Linux browsers offer tabbed browsing, I'm not sure. You can check your e-mail and newsgroups with the e-mail client. You even can build your Web site using the Composer. That's great for users who don't know much about HTML.

I mentioned that we're developing our own church management system. Look, I'm not a programmer, which is why I'm learning as I go. Info Central is one available application, but we've chosen to do it ourselves. Again, multiple factors are involved in this decision. None is more important, however, than the learning experience.

Because we are in the midst of launching a computer training program, we need to be able to teach skills to which people otherwise may not have access. At some point in the future, we'll be able to offer database administration and development classes. And the skills students learn will be usable across various platforms. This leads us to the next phase of our ministry--education.

The KDE desktop offers some educational tools that we can use to help young people or even our members. Using KEduca, we can develop a Bible trivia quiz for our members or test preparation lessons for school students. We can offer typing classes or teach geometry, foreign language vocabulary and even astronomy. Scilab offers stuff that only a high-school calculus student could love.

Linux includes numerous games. Our church could run tournaments for chess, backgammon, Scrabble and several card games--all over a small network. These are only some of the nifty things a little church like ours can accomplish using $80 worth of software. That's right, we spent $80 for all of this. That's stewardship.

Getting Help

Just as the faithful turn to the scriptures to help them solve life's problems, so too, Linux users have helpful resources available to them. Man and info pages offer help with commands. How-tos offer the more conventional step-by-step instructions for particular tasks. SuSE and most other distributions include additional help documents specific to their distribution.

If you cannot solve your problem that way, there's always the e-mail lists, news groups and Web site bulletin boards. Linux support sites, such as LinuxCare, offer commercial support. Linux Support Services offers free assistance. Additionally, the commercial vendors offer technical support and usually include some sort of Web support as well.

Migration Strategies

Is it right to let a penguin into your organization? Only your organization can answer that. For us, it was a matter of me deciding we would use Linux. For most church leaders, though, it won't be that easy. Many have church boards to answer to, an office staff that will get stuck with the end result and that special someone who objects to everything but singing "Amazing Grace". Therefore, time will be spent hashing out the reasons for making a change--or, for newer churches--starting out with Linux. I hope the reasons for using Linux are now clear.

So what about the reasons for changing? The reasons commonly given for using proprietary software often reveal more about our biases than about the facts. I've taken the liberty of helping you reason through some of the arguments you'll hear in favor of your current legacy system.

The old "Everyone uses Brand X" argument doesn't hold water. I already have said that open-source software is highly compatible with many proprietary products. The notion that legacy software is easier to use than current open-source products is not always true. Installing my HP 970Cse duplexing printer was much easier with Linux than with the proprietary system it replaced.

Many people tell me what they've heard about Linux, often quoting some IT expert from their workplace. The problem is that these IT experts may or may not have used Linux. They may be answering from the perspective of their companies. They simply may think that your users are too dumb to use Linux--an insult to your intelligence. Effectively, many get what they ask for, an opinion. That opinion may not apply to your situation.

Consider this. I know IT experts who don't know much about Linux. Meanwhile, I've been using it since 2000. They know only what they've read about Linux. One guy has a copy that he hasn't installed yet. When I discuss certain network services, he's lost. These are well educated, very experienced people. They simply don't know Linux well enough to make a claim about it. Hence, their opinion cannot be taken as an in-depth analysis for using Linux in our church.

If you're going to ask an IT expert to help you make a decision about Linux, make sure he or she has at least some experience with Linux. That expert's thorough understanding of your situation will affect the final analysis. The expert needs to have an understanding of your current skill set, your attitudes toward change and your current hardware and software situation.

Churches can launch a computer ministry, effectively creating a group of members who undertake to learn Linux over a specified period of time. The group members could use their own computers or a single computer dedicated to this mission. This group also could work with other churches in a combined effort and then lead your church through the migration process.

To aid you in presenting your case, you should demonstrate Linux for the folks who will be using your system. Invite the local Linux Users Group (LUG) to show off Linux for you. Alternatively, many distributions offer evaluation CDs that don't have to be installed to run. If nothing else, designate a team to get a boxed distribution and play with it on a single computer. They can run the demonstration for the others.

I think the demonstration is going to be important for the doubting Thomases in your midst. People need to see the differences and similarities between Linux and whatever operating system they currently use. You even could set up a single system that everyone can play with for a few weeks. Your more adventurous types may not need that, but the timid folks will appreciate it.

When it comes to data, churches need to consider their options carefully. A new church with no significant data is an ideal candidate. A small church using a legacy operating system and legacy office software could migrate easily in short order. Larger churches, with a lot of data stored in a proprietary application, need to consider a gradual migration.

Although most applications do allow you to export your data to a standard text format, some may require specialized tools. Even though you may feel trapped in your current environment, all is not lost. Simply deploy Linux on a limited number of PCs in your office until you develop the ability to migrate all your data to one of the databases included in Linux. Again, you've got options.

Once you export your data to a standard text format, such as the tab-separated values format, many Linux applications can work with your data. You can set up tables in MySQL to match the columns in your files. Then, simply load the data into the database with a simple command, and you're back up and running. Well, there is more to it than that. But at least you get the general idea, and that it it's fairly simple and straightforward to accomplish.

There is one more option for using Linux in your organization: running Linux with other operating systems, such as Windows or OS X. Linux plays well with other systems. Many businesses are using the mixed or hybrid approach to prevent getting trapped with software that they don't want. That way, you can run your legacy software while taking advantage of the many powerful features Linux offers.

______________________

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good stuff

Anonymous's picture

I loved this article and agree with it 100%. Open source for me is a matter of good stewardship at home and the office. In fact I found this site www.linuxchurch.com that is supposedly being build for just that reason. Apparently it was just launched and is still being populated with content, but good stuff for linux noobs.

good stewards

Ministry Guy's picture

What stewardship! I shriek at thinking about how many churches and non-profits drop big bucks on Office, of which they only need/use 5% of the feature set.

Excellent article!

Jeff Stormer's picture

While reading this article, it occured to me that Microsoft is much like the Roman Catholic church during the middle ages, promoting the Latin bible that only trained techs/priesthood could properly understand and interpret.

Then comes Luther & Hus and the boys. Linux in all its wonderful varieties seems to be very like the English bible with its numerous translations.

I haven't pushed the analogy very far & don't know that I necesarily want to, but the basic picture tickled my fancy.

In His Majesty's Service,
Jeff Stormer

This is a wonderful article,

ninaw's picture

This is a wonderful article, so thank you for sharing it. Though I am not Christian, I found the following portion a pleasant read.

"Richard Stallman, the founder of the GNU project, may be an atheist, but his view of software has close theological parallels to Christian theology. Proprietary software limits my ability to help my neighbor, one of the cornerstone of the Christian faith."

Now I'm off to recommend Linux to my Christian friends. :)

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

For those non-programmers that want to develop their systems using php-mysql. I suggest to go to Hotscripts.com and download a GPL software of PHP-MySQL and test it. This might get your church in like 3 hours with a whole robust application for managing your data.

And is also GPL.

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

I have recently started a website www.tutorialsforopenoffice.org that offers free tutorials for OpenOffice. We offer a free page where customized tutorials can be posted for churches. Why re-invent the wheel??? The posting from the 1st church can be used and/or modified by other churches. At Home Page select "Customized Page" to see an example.

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

A commentor at Linux Today posted this link for Free Bible study software, and it looks awesome. Check it out. This is a great project for Open Source.

http://www.crosswire.org/crosswire/index.jsp

Not Just Churches, but Mosques too!!

Anonymous's picture

I am setting up web access via Linux in my mosque. We don't want any stinking MS products and hopefully we can avoid viruses as well. Only thing I hope is that the site blockage software I saw mentioned on Slashdot yesterday works so that we don't get obscene materials coming thru..

Re: Not Just Churches, but Mosques too!!

Anonymous's picture

Being Christian, I fully support your initiative !
Moving should be independent of religion.

Re: Not Just Churches, but Mosques too!!

evangelinux's picture

I was hoping that other religious groups would find the article useful. That's rewarding. Unfortunately, I can only speak from my own perspective. Yet, what I have written can be applied to other religious groups as well. Other faith communities would do well to organize a web site to help point folks to development and web projects pertaining to their faiths.

This also applies to non-profit organizations in general. Whether it be the local chess club or the Red Cross, such organizations have many opportunities with free software. Glad to hear from you!

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

This is very commendable, I am personally preaching a different "gospel" here in Africa to the people I meet, that of Linux use and the truth about the myths facing it. Most have the option of even deciding that its too expensive to run some applications not knowing that its available in Linux for free. my Linux distro collection is now bigger than anyone around that I know of. Thats some very nice work you have done. If you were in my neighbourhood I would start comming to your church.

If there is anyone reading this and is in kenya, please join us in the egroup www.yahoogroups.com/maseno

M.

In Africa, (Kenya)

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

nydiarra's picture

This could be an interesting solution for african churches that cannot afford proprietary softwares.

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Very good article. I am christian too. I think that a christian naturally should be an free software advocate or at least user. I live in Argentina, and here almost nobody that say be a christian either use or advocate free software. I feel often a stranger in a strange land. In my country the christian doesn't understand how important is the free software, and they I am a mad. If you are a protestant christian, live in Argentina, or at least speak in spanish. Please, send me a mail to sebelk@linuxmail.org.
Thanks.

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Hey there... I know how you feel. It seems like almost all Christians in the United States are unaware of Free Software/Open Source too. But there do seem to be a few who are promoting freedom among God's people. If you get a chance, maybe you can subscribe to the Linux 4 Christians mailing list. I speak some Spanish... maybe we could talk a little.

Subscribe to the Linux4christians Mailing List:
http://www.thelinuxlink.net/mailman/listinfo/linux4christians

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

"Proprietary software limits my ability to help my neighbor, one of the cornerstone of the Christian faith."

Thank you for writing an article about the use of free software in Christian ministries... I agree completely with this statement and would even add that proprietary software in some ways actually prevents one from helping your neighbor -- most notably when you want to share a program that would be extremely helpful to them. Let us encourage our Christian brothers and sisters to use free software whenever possible so that we can help others with clear consciences.

"Using proprietary software without a license is the same thing--stealing."

Actually, my understanding is that using (or copying) proprietary software without or in violation of the license would be copyright infringement, which is certainly illegal, but a far different issue than stealing. There is a fundamental difference between taking something physical (the person whose item was stolen can no longer use it) and copying something like ideas or software (the person whose software is copied can still make just as much use of it afterward). Please don't equate the two because this is the same flawed argument the proprietary software companies and the recording industry trumpet to help scare lawmakers into passing restrictive and unecessary laws (eg. DMCA).

Thanks again for the article!

Subscribe to the Linux4christians Mailing List:
http://www.thelinuxlink.net/mailman/listinfo/linux4christians

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

"Actually, my understanding is that using (or copying) proprietary software without or in violation of the license would be copyright infringement, which is certainly illegal, but a far different issue than stealing. "

how so? Stealing it is taking something that does not belong to you - you did not buy it, it was not given to you, you did not produce it yourself - sounds like stealing to me....

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

"Stealing it is taking something that does not belong to you"

The point is that you **can't** "take" software by the act of copying it, whether the copy is legally made or not. Software, like ideas, music, literature, and other representations of information, is not limited to one physical item... there is a fundamental difference between those things, which can be replicated by computers at negligible cost, and things like houses, cars, and clothing, which cannot be "replicated" for a negligible cost (at least not at the present time). If I copy a CD legally (after the musician explicitly said it was ok to make copies), then the person whose CD I copied still has their copy, and now I have one too. They have the same ability to listen to their CD that they always had, and now I can listen to it too.

Now if I steal a physical CD from a music store by shoplifting, that really is theft, because it involves taking a physical thing that is not easily replicated and which is no longer physically available to the owner.

Don't accept the propaganda of the "content producing industries" that illegal copying equals theft. It may be illegal under our laws, and I don't condone it, but it's not theft. So-called "intellectual property" is just not the same as real, physical property, and shouldn't be treated as such. Look up the (United States) laws if you don't believe me... they refer to copyright infringement instead of theft or stealing.

Also see:
http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.html#Theft
http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/2425
http://www.tenreasonswhy.com/weblog/archives/2003/08/03/stealing_vs_copy...

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

This is starting to become one of those debates the apostles warned against - useless. The fact is that the illegal use of any software is wrong. Call it what you like - it's wrong. And it's especially wrong for the Church (which is supposed to be a light on a hill) to engage in such practices.

Churches need to pay attention to their software licenses, which many probably do. Many others definitely do not. That could cost them big bucks and much embarrassment in the long run.

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Well if I see that people don't respond to a rewording/expansion of my original points, then I concede that continuing the debate would probably not be profitable. But I hardly think that one response and counter-response qualifies as a long, drawn-out debate. Anyway, I primarily posted a longer response for the possible benefit of anyone out there who might happen to read it and be thinking about the subject.

Illegal use of software is not necessarily wrong in the sense that there would never be a sense to illegaly use software. If the US suddenly made it illegal to write about Christ using software or other tools, I hardly think that would make such writing "wrong." The laws are generally to be followed, yes, but they are not what determines what is truly right and wrong -- the Lord is the ultimate authority.

Software is kind of unusual, because it's based primarily on copyright (and somewhat on patents and trademarks). I believe, as I think the US founding fathers did, that copyright does not exist naturally -- that is, it is something created by people to serve a purpose -- to benefit the public good, whether in the area of software or elsewhere. So in a very real sense, it is "made up," and its terms and limitations are always subject to change. I believe that we should seek to obey the copyright laws as they are, although I believe the law is ridiculously lop-sided in favor of corporations and in need of reform. However, I can envision the possiblity of future copyright restrictions that might interfere with what the Lord desires and might even need to be "infringed" upon at times.

Even now, copyright and the way it is enforced often cause us to be forbidden to help one another by sharing a helpful program with someone else. But I don't think we need to infringe on copyrights, because we have free software (www.gnu.org) that we can share with anyone who is in need. Also, churches and individuals wouldn't have to worry so much about their software licenses (and BSA audits/raids) if they used free and open source software. But I agree -- if they don't and use proprietary software like most of the US does, then they need to be extra careful with licenses and license terms. I would think they probably should consult a lawyer or two as well -- those End User License Agreements (EULAs) sure are long and tedious.

So in summary -- using software against the license terms would not always and in every circumstance be wrong, and we wouldn't have to worry so much about onerous license terms if we avoided the software programs that come with them. May the Lord help us all make wise decisions in this matter.

Subscribe to the Linux4christians Mailing List:
http://www.thelinuxlink.net/mailman/listinfo/linux4christians

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Go back and read the parent post. He made the point that copyright infringement involves copying information, not stealing a physical work. There's been a very clearly marked demarcation between stealing and copyright infringement (in Western law, anyway; can't speak for Asian or African cultures) for hundreds of years.

As to who defines the difference? In the US, it's the Constitution.

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Just to let you know you're not alone...
I do part-time sysadmin at my local church. At the church we have a full time staff of 9 or 10 people, plus another 6 or so who work from home with broadband lines and IPCOP with Freeswan. The server at the church is a P2 machine which runs Samba, MySQL, Postfix with Spamassassin and ClamAV, plus another IPCOP box.

While all the staff currently use Windows (and all software is properly licensed, too) this situation has to change. I'm putting a Fedora box on one user's desk to see how she gets on with it. Pray for me!

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

A good choice would be Linspire with its surfsafe porn filter.

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

A commentor at Linux Today posted this link for Free Bible study software, and it looks awesome. Check it out. This is what a great project for Open Source.

http://www.crosswire.org/crosswire/index.jsp

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Excellent article! Most inspiring. Here is a similarly toned article:
http://searchenterpriselinux.techtarget.com/originalContent/0,289142,sid39_gci990899,00.html

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Hi,

I've been using linux in my church office for a couple of years now. We have three computers in our church building:

1. My office- uses OpenOffice, sylpheeed for email, Opera for web browsing plus the usual open source tools. Also moneydance for accounting.

2. bookshop- uses ancient lap top and a debian distro. We use europos which is a POS application using perl to access a MySQL database located on a server at our home next door. My wife uses this computer for web browsing on mainly konqueror or mozilla.

3. Video projector- another old laptop which powers an old lcd projector that sits on an OHP. It runs RH 7.3 and uses magicpoint to do the slides... everyting else (kpresenter, OO Impress) is too S L O W on this machine. Magicpoint is brilliant. I write up the slides on gedit on the office computer and transfer them to this laptop via a Compact Flash card (more reliable than floppies).

Why do we use linux rather than windows?

1. Cost- you can get a lot more software for free more easily (esp. the OS itself!)

2. Reliability- I got sick of the dreaded BSOD and countless lock-ups.

3. Licence issues- I know there are no illegal applications on any of our computers. i will never have to fear a visit from the "software police."

4. It's a lot easier to use old computers and the software to run them under linux.

I still have Win 95 installed on my office computer because the Australian Tax Office has not issued a cross platform version of its software for reporting GST. I boot into windows about once a quarter on average, and as soon as I can find a way to get around this problem windoze will leave my church for ever!

Keith

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Great article,like Keith, i have found that the ATO ,Telstra and most assie banks,live in a microsoft only world.

regards Carrboyd

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Maybe the solution for win95 problem is:

www.eweek.com article from 24-June-2004:
http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,1617043,00.asp

"Staten Island, N.Y.-based Element Computer Inc. does this by combining its own Linux distribution, ION OS; its own line of PCs; technology from NeTraverse Inc.'s Win4Lin; and a licensed copy of Microsoft Windows 98 SE."

"NeTraverse's Win4Lin, a program that enables Linux users to run Windows 95, 98 or ME as a virtual machine."

Or maybe wine:

"Wine is an Open Source implementation of the Windows API on top of X and Unix."

"Think of Wine as a Windows compatibility layer. Wine does not require Microsoft Windows, as it is a completely alternative implementation consisting of 100% Microsoft-free code, but it can optionally use native system DLLs if they are available. Wine provides both a development toolkit (Winelib) for porting Windows sources to Unix and a program loader, allowing many unmodified Windows binaries to run on x86-based Unixes, including Linux, FreeBSD, and Solaris."

wine webpage:
http://www.winehq.com/

Element Computer Inc. web page:
http://www.elementcomputer.com

NeTraverse Inc. web page:
http://www.netraverse.com/

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

The problem is that the Tax Office in their infinite wisdom wrote the app. in java but insisted that users must use MS' version.

Haven't found a way around this yet, not even using wine... one of life's little distractions rather than major disaster.

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Amen!

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for sharing this encouraging article. I have email this article link to our deacons and interested parties. Keep up the good effort!

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Seriously. I was talking with a guy from Church recently and he said, "Well, we'll replace the secretary's machine, I'll put windows 2000 Pro on it." I asked, "Umm, do you have a legal LICENSE for 2000?" He looked confused and said, "Of course not." I said, "Then why are you putting it on her machine?"
I've got a sad feeling that all of our WP installs are stolen as well. THERE IS NO NEED FOR THIS!
There's a-gonna be some changes 'round here...

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

Anonymous's picture

Lessig, Moglen and Stallman would probably be tone deaf to the "religious" reasons for choosing Linux, but the appeal of the Linux OS to churches is actually pretty obvious, quite beyond cost. For example, Catholic social doctrine is based on two pillars: (1) the dignity of the individual person; and (2) the common good.

Monopolies are generally the enemy of the common good because they misuse power, reduce creativity, accumulate excessive profits and defend their own interests at the expense of new technologies and ideas that could better serve more people. Since software is the modern equivalent of -- what? oil paints? the alphabet? early engineering skills? -- it's our new vocabulary of culture. A monopoly on that has indirect but large implications for the way we live, organize and express ourselves, etc.

So the discussion about Microsoft and the search for alternatives has a moral dimension, which for most folks means some kind of religious framework.

Bravo on a fine article.

Re: The Penguin Driven Church Office

dmarti's picture

It's not just about the software and the use to which you can put it.

Getting into the habit of using Free Software, where you have the right to change things and no excuse not to, helps you develop better habits in other areas of your life. "When will someone fix that problem for me?" becomes "I can and should fix that problem, or at least start fixing it and ask for help when I get stuck."

Binding yourself to a EULA when you could do otherwise is an excuse for inactivity.

Same thesis of Bit Prepared

Anonymous's picture

Hello,

congratulations for your article, and for using Free Software in your Church. My only remark is about this:
"None of us are programmers, but we know that free software can be redistributed in order to help others. Richard Stallman, the founder of the GNU project, may be an atheist, but his view of software has close theological parallels to Christian theology. Proprietary software limits my ability to help my neighbor, one of the cornerstone of the Christian faith. "
This order of reasons is by far more important than the others, and is
by itself enough, in my opinion, to do the switch. Note that the one above is
the same thesis I propose as central in my
Bit Prepared article.
Congratulations again,
Marco Fioretti

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