Transition Strategies: Windows to Linux

by Richard F Freund

Each month brings new and easier ways to transition desktop functions from Windows to Linux. February's Desktop Linux Summit certainly was a milestone event on this path. Gary Maxwell's article, "Linux for a Small Business", in the March issue of Linux Journal was especially interesting to companies such as ours, Grid IQ. We are a small software and consulting business, with special technology for distributed, cluster and grid computing. Many (but not all) of our folks have been longtime Linux users.

Figure 1 shows the modus operandi we used up until several months ago, as well as our current mode. In the old mode we had some desktops running Linux, mostly used for code development, and some running Windows, mostly for document preparation in MS Office. We probably had more Windows and Office licenses than we really needed. In addition, this arrangement did not readily facilitate joint drafts of documents, such as proposals, briefs, customer reports, conference papers and so on. Also, in a small company, such as ours, most of us need to do both technical and business development work. Hence, we need the functionality we received from both Windows and Linux.

Over time it became clear that we needed to transition most of our functions to Linux and to develop a clear method for preparing, collaborating on and publishing our many documents. This paper describes the transition steps that we settled on and carried out.

In making this transition, it also was clear that we would need Windows capability for some time. That is, we were never candidates for a dramatic and instantaneous transition to only Linux. For example, some times we are required to collaborate on documents with outside sponsors in MS Word or Power Point. It is often much too hard to try to make these look the same in MS Office as they would look in Star/Open Office. Furthermore, we use some applications that we know can be transitioned eventually to similar Linux applications. But we need time to make all these transitions gracefully, robustly and with confidence. So it was critical for us to plan on a transition policy that increased our Linux use and dependency but still enabled us to use Windows on occasion.

In our new mode, as Figure 1 shows, most of us now run Linux exclusively. Some use Red Hat, some Debian and some LindowsOS (which we have found to be very friendly). We also have found that we need only a few Windows-capable machines, and those are best configured as dual-boot machines.

Figure 2 shows typical disk partitions for a dual-boot machine. We can have a Windows partition (NTFS), a Linux partition (EXT3) and one or more common partitions (FAT), which each OS can read and write to.

Figure 3 shows our document preparation strategy. Basically, we share drafts in Star/Open Office, under either OS. We publish for the outside world in in non-OS dependent formats, such as PDF or HTML. This paper was written in Star Office partly under Windows and partly under Linux.

Figure 4 shows some details about how I preserve coherency for e-mail on my dual-boot machines. Basically I use Netscape e-mail on both Linux and Windows. I use filters to direct incoming mail to Local Folders in the FAT partition, and I use settings to direct sent mail there. The usual care has to be taken with the path name. Under Windows, it would be something like H:\Documents\...\Local Folders (where H is the letter of the FAT partition). Under Linux, it would be /mnt/H/Documents/.../Local Folders/.

We have reached several conclusions from our new mode of operations.

  1. We pay for fewer Windows and Office licenses, and we are much less Windows-dependent. In time, we will only use Linux.

  2. We more easily share/edit documents amongst ourselves, and we publish documents for the outside in non-OS-dependent formats.

  3. Everyone can readily perform both technical and business tasks.

  4. Our transition strategy was helped particularly by:

    • LindowsOS (very easy for those not already using Linux)

    • Star/Open Office

    • Today's inexpensive disk space, which made dual-boot machines easy.

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