A fellow blogger recently pointed out some positive experiences he had for his business with migrating away from Microsoft as his primary operating system and software provider (SpendMatters) . While I do not completely share his utter enthusiasm for all things Apple, nor the next levelup from that, the full-blown Fanboy, I do agree, as a technologist and a sourcing professional, that businesses should be constantly reevaluating their infrastructure and the available solutions and providers in the market, no matter how unconventional.

The French police have recently reported that the national police force has moved a portion of their infrastructure (5,000 workstations) to Ubuntu Linux and had saved an estimated 50 million Euros in the last 5 years. The program has been so successful that they intend to roll Linux out to the rest of their 90,000 workstations over the next 6 years. While France's police department decision to move open source is nothing new, they could still be considered on the cutting edge of other government's that have been testing the waters and will joining the ranks of India, UK, Canada, Denmark, Taiwan and a few others. Are you listening United States?

For those of you that are not up to date on your "tech speak", Ubuntu is a community developed, open source operating system that works on laptops, workstations, servers, etc. Some creative folks have even ported versions of Linux onto everything from cell phones to toasters. When most people here they words Linux or Unix, they immediately conjure up pictures of comic book guy from The Simpsons pounding away at some command line prompt reminiscent of the days of DOS. However, Linux has evolved to much more than that. In fact, after you install a distro of Ubuntu, you will find the learning curve to be very small, in fact, the learning curve is less than that of a Windows user moving to Mac. Ubuntu and a few other distros have done an amazing job in the last few years of upgrading their GUIs and making the end-user experience familiar and easy to use for your non-tech personnel. Besides being free, what is really great about the newer Linux flavors is that you can pop open a menu and select from thousands of free open source software applications and install them right to your machine, without searching the web or buying from an over-priced software vendor. In the free software options you will find everything from Open Office (a Microsoft Office alternative) to Gimp (a Photoshop alternative) and just about everything in between.

Another huge advantage of Linux based systems is that they are relatively lightweight in install size and really do an excellent job of utilizing available system resources. This means that you can install Linux on older equipment (slower processors, smaller hard drives, less ram) and experience a significant performance boost over you old Windows installation. In fact, Ubuntu is so easy to install, and uses resources so well, that it is a great thing to put on older equipment that has been retired by you and you can hand it off to your parents or grandparents as a "new" computer. If you do choose to install it on newer equipment, expect to see performance speeds and memory management similar or better than a Mac, yet with pricing less than that of a windows based pc (1/3 the cost of Apple products).

If you do intend to evaluate any open source alternatives in your business or home life, there is no reason that you have to jump in all at once. Start with installing the windows version of Open Office on your Windows box. Try using it instead of Microsoft Office and see how it works for you for a few weeks. If you like it, go a bit more daring and install a free Ubuntu distro on one of your old PCs or laptops. If you don't have a spare computer handy, then install VMWare's Hypervisor and then install ubuntu within hypervisor. Hypervisor allows you to run a virtual computer inside of your windows machine (so no worries about losing data and formatting your computer).

Now Ubuntu is not right for every business. Nor is it truly free. If you do roll it out on an enterprise level, you would likely need to contract with a third-party support service in order to meet your emergency needs or to address oddball issues such as missing drivers or non-support for legacy applications. You should also make sure you are comfortable with the release schedules of the products and should thoroughly test to make sure every application in your business is supported on the Linux OS. There are ways around non-supported legacy apps that were not developed to be compatible with Linux, such as running Wine, which allows you to run windows apps on Linux, but in reality, that adds a level of complexity to the end-user which is just not desirable. This is particularly important to road warrior consultants that often need to install customer software, ERP clients, or VPN tunnels on their laptops in order to mine data from a client's systems. In these cases, it may just make more sense to stick with the tried and true Windows installation.

Then of course, there are those businesses that for one reason or the other, just are stuck with Microsoft. Nothing wrong with that at all, but there are still options to help you save on your end-user costs. Having a thorough understanding of the Microsoft Enterprise licensing structure combined with a good audit (with the help of a third-party) and some creative thinking, substantial savings opportunities may be available. By removing features that are not used by every individual, or by upgrading to newer licensing models of an old application, you can actually save a substantial amount of money, and can often enhance or upgrade to newer technology than your business currently uses.

Edit: A friend of mine just dropped me a note and reminded me about the obvious security benefits of moving to Linux. Though I do not have the energy right now to expand on it in-depth, it is a good point that I wanted to include here. Besides the piece of mind of having something that is not as susceptible to viruses and unwanted intrusions, there is actually a cost benefit of not having to run expensive Anti-Virus solutions. (You still should have security software, it is just not as expensive).
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William Dorn

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