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Businesses Open Source Upgrades Windows Linux

Ask Slashdot: How To Start With Linux In the Workplace? 452

An anonymous reader writes "Recently my boss has asked me about the advantages of Linux as a desktop operating system and if it would be a good idea to install it instead of upgrading to Windows 7 or 8. About ten boxes here are still running Windows XP and would be too old to upgrade to any newer version of Windows. He knows that i am using Linux at work on quite outdated hardware (would have gotten a new PC but never requested new hardware — Linux Mint x64 runs quite well on it) and i always managed to get my stuff done with it. I explained to him that there are no licensing issues with Linux, there is no anti-virus software to deal with and that Linux is generally a bit more efficient on old hardware than operating systems from Microsoft. The boss seems interested." But that's not quite the end; read on for this reader's question.
"Since I am the only guy with Linux experience I would have to support the Linux installations. Now the problem is what works perfectly fine for me may be a horrible experience for some of my coworkers, and even if they would only be using Firefox, Thunderbird and LibreOffice I don't know if I could seriously recommend using Linux as a desktop OS in a business. Instead I want to set up one test machine for users to try it and ask THEM if they like it. The test machine should be as easy and painless to use as possible and not look too different compared to Windows. Which distro and what configuration should I choose for this demo box?"
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Ask Slashdot: How To Start With Linux In the Workplace?

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  • by AAWood ( 918613 ) <aawood&gmail,com> on Thursday April 10, 2014 @01:40PM (#46716081)
    This story says it's from the "sounds like Mint works for you" department, and I think that's your answer. If you're going to have to look after them, then it makes sense to go with what you're most familiar with, especially as Mint shouldn't be too alien to XP users.
  • PCs aint expensive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cod3r_ ( 2031620 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @01:43PM (#46716113)
    Not sure why they'd be trying so hard to save themselves from buying new PCs.. Probably the XP machines run like ass as it is. Linux as a general use machine for people that are so bad at computers they still use XP.... just no.. hell no. tell the boss to stop being so cheap and upgrade to this decade
  • by metrix007 ( 200091 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @01:43PM (#46716117)

    The thing is, Windows 7 also runs great on older hardware. I just put it on a Hp ZE2000 from 2005, which isn't at all a powerful machine and it is running smoothly and very stable.

    Something like Ubuntu won't run much better (Although Xubuntu or Lubuntu may well), and AV software is not the concern it was back in the day. The free MS Security essentials and a gateway check will be more than enough.

    The real issue is software. Can the users rely on LibreOffice and Chrome/Firefox? Or is there windows software they rely on or will need?

    Go with what makes sense according to needs and cost restrictions, not because of an ideology....

  • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @01:46PM (#46716157) Homepage

    Yet. There are some basics that can easily be dealt with regardless of what his other requirements are. He even mentions some of them in his post.

    Basically, he can start out with installing cross platform apps on Windows and seeing how readily the rest of his office can migrate to those. If the rest of his office is left running what is essentially a Linux desktop without Linux itself, then he can ditch Windows.

  • by MindStalker ( 22827 ) <mindstalker AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday April 10, 2014 @01:56PM (#46716291) Journal

    Honestly, this is the solution. Unless you and your coworkers are working for free, the man hours you will waste on transitioning and people having issues with the new machines, be it not knowing the file system or the differences between MS Word and LibreOffice. You should run the numbers and find out.
    The machines you need, over their projected lives of 4 years cost $X per employee per day. That $X is likely less than 30 minutes. Is it likely that the new systems will cost you more than the same amount of man-hours in conversion and support?

  • Re:Lol don't (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @01:57PM (#46716313) Journal

    employment is only income if your time is worthless

    It is worth something to someone. That's called your salary or wage. Now if you do nothing this value decreases very rapidly to minimum wage by 6 months

  • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @01:58PM (#46716317)

    What are they doing with the computers? Digital design? Publishing a newspaper? Handling invoices? Controlling a nuclear power plant? Software development? Defense work? Managing a taxi service?

    The answer will depend entirely on the type of use.

  • by leereyno ( 32197 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @02:01PM (#46716353) Homepage Journal

    If you're working with people who are comfortable with technology, then making such a transition should not cause too much pain. Annoyances yes, especially with file format compatibility issues, but nothing too serious. You'll be answering lots of questions, but the questions themselves will be from a position of needing some details filled in, not failure to understand basic concepts.

    On the other hand, if you're working with people for whom computers and technology are PFM (Pure @#%$ing Magic) then ANY CHANGE, no matter how trivial, will lead to nervous breakdowns. For such people, use of a computer involves memorized incantations (if not outright prayers) based on mouse movements, clicks, and magic words typed into the screen. If these change, even slightly, they will be utterly lost and terrified -- and they'll blame YOU.

    If this is the case, then you're going to have to create a standardized installation of Linux with a normal desktop interface (Cinnamon, KDE) and then TRAIN your employees on how to use it. Mint is a good choice. I'm using the KDE version of Mint 16 on all my workstations. The cinnamon version is also perfectly usable. There are of course other options. The key is to create an environment that is as close to what they know as possible. Not necessarily in terms of how it looks, but how it BEHAVES.

    Even so, there will always be some differences that will trip such users up. You guys might have to hire a temp worker whose sole job will be to train and support your employees until they learn the new incantations.

    The good news is that moving from XP/Vista/7 to a normal desktop Linux distro will actually be easier than trying to retrain these employees to use the malware that is Windows 8.

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @02:02PM (#46716363)

    You are getting yourself in a world of pain!

    XP users will bitch and moan enough already if they have to use Windows 7 or 8. Giving them Linux would be much worse.

    Here are some common misconceptions about end users:
    1. They are stupid and only do stupid thing with there PC: Firefox and libreOffice is not the limit to a persons PC usage. They are going to do more complex things even if they don't realize it. They will want to share files over the network, they may want to attach their Camera to their PC, Video Conference, Do some graphics manipulations, even sometimes do basic system admin on their PC, such as updates or putting in a driver. You need to give them more credit then most people do. Linux for the desktop tends to have a doughnut hole in usability. You get Granny Open your program and browse the web. You got advanced user where you can script and program all you want... The hole is in the Moderate user category.

    2. Their PC's will work great with Linux: Who really fully checks the Linux compatibility list when getting a PC. Especially if you initially get a windows PC. Even old PC's you may find that a network controller isn't supported, or a video driver never really worked right with that screen. Hardware makers usually make sure their stuff works on windows first then perhaps in Linux if they feel like there is a market for it.

    3. Vendors/Customers/Partners will bend backwards to help you keep supported. I am sending you a DOCX with a Macro in it for you to view. Are you really going to have them redo their work so you can view that document. A vendor may give you a crappy convert. The customer will defiantly give you lip. A partner may question you.

    4. We don't use Legacy Software: There is always that piece of legacy software that you have that makes porting expensive.

  • Cautiously... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JeffAtl ( 1737988 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @02:03PM (#46716381)

    I'd give it a lot of thought before you spearheaded this initiative as it comes with a lot of personal risk. "This linux crap that Bob had us switch over to" will get the blame by the employees for any and all application or IT related issues.

    To be clear, I'm not saying that Linux will be the cause, just that it will always be the presumed culprit.

  • Re:Themes... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @02:10PM (#46716461)

    Sure it can... but for the love of God--why??

    Portability of learned skills means you don't have to re-train your workers.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Talderas ( 1212466 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @02:23PM (#46716585)

    There is some valuable information in here. The problem the submitter made was talking about the cost of the hardware and software and ignoring any support costs. His company doesn't want to spend money upgradeing hardware or moving to windows 7. Do you think the boss wants to spent money on someone to support linux? What's going to happen is the submitter is going to get stuck supporting it and probably not get a pay increase for doing so while starting to get bitched at for not getting his work done.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2014 @02:28PM (#46716621)

    I've done this.

    You will have the following problems:

    #1 - some business users will be totally unable to function without microsoft outlook. They will have ZERO interest or patience in learning thunderbird (or whatever) and will become INCREDIBLY vocally disgruntled that it doesn't do the fonts/alarms/animatedsigniatures/auto-invite-replies/whatever the way "it always worked in outlook"

    #2 - file sharing. If your in a typical "business" environment, the functionality (not saying it's good or bad) of windows SMB/CIFS sharing will be incredibly difficult to replace. I've used NFS to achieve similar results with a graphical file browser, but you will be surprised how many users copy/paste files instead of drag/drop and the minor UI differences will cause them to clam up FAST.

    #3 - proprietary business apps. Not even niche line-of-business apps - but stuff like the UPS Worldship client. It's possible to operate without them, but would/will take SERIOUS business realignment and shake-up to do.

    #4 - Welcome to the IT department, you're the new system administrator and helpdesk guy. Your job will vanish if the linux deployment has any speedbumps.

    #5 - If your network uses radioActive Directory, prepare for pain. Several years ago, I successfully built a gentoo fileserver running samba, extended file attributes, pam plugins etc that was 100% "integrated" into the company active directory - you could even right-click a file from a windows box and play with the fine-grained permissions with individual user ACLs and stuff, and after some trial and error it even worked - but it was a SERIOUS pain in the ass. Getting a bunch of desktops to not only authenticate against an AD server, but to handle things like home directory creation, user ID translation, etc, intelligently will be a pain in the rear to setup and maintain. Security patches to your AD server _WILL_ break the duct tape.

    #6 - You will very quickly learn exactly how scared of computers 50% of end-users are. They perform their tasks by rote, and if something (say, plugging in a USB stick) doesn't behave in a way they expect it to, you should expect constant show-stopper-sounding complaints to the boss. Get used to hearing things like "Ginger says she can't do her job." on a weekly or daily basis.

    #7 - connecting to printers/scanners/whatever shared off some windows box will end up being a LOT more problematic then you think.

    #8 - If users can't load their comet cursor, change their background to some animated waterfall, or have other specific desktop tweaks like they're used to, expect "Ginger can't work like this" complaints, no matter how trivial it is to you and me.

    #9 - "My excel macros don't work with this openoffice calc thing" turns out to be more of a actual show-stopper then you think.

    You will experience the following pros:

    #1 - Up-front short term cost savings on licensing. Your boss will love that.

    I'm not suggesting you hold back, and I've converted 3 small companies to desktop linux myself, just giving you some fair warning of what to expect.

    #2 -

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @02:37PM (#46716749) Homepage

    A bit of extra work and you have something that is really tailord for your company. You can make two images. One for clients and one for servers. Or go evebn further and edit YaST so you have only one image for several options. Portable, desktop, software selections per department, ...

    And, really, unless you invest in the time of managing these machines, including patch roll out and the like ... all you're doing is making problems for yourself down the road.

    People expect their work computers to work, they expect the process of updating to be hands-off, transparent, and uniform (why does Sally have a completely different version that I do?).

    If you're just going to fire up Linux on someone's machine and walk away and leave them to fend for themselves, you should expect major problems and grumbling.

    If you haven't put thought into managing the life cycle and support of the machines, you're doing it wrong, and it will bite you in the ass.

    It's one thing to install a distro on your own machine. It's entirely something else to deal with all of the compatibility and support issues people will inevitably encounter. This sounds like it's being done quite ad hoc, so you better have a very small shop of people who don't need hand-holding when it comes to computers.

  • Re:Themes... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tahuti ( 744415 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @03:18PM (#46717277)
    Like switching from XP to 8, that will be quite a shock.
  • Re:Lol don't (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dishevel ( 1105119 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @04:41PM (#46718487)
    Windows starts to become more useful once you get Cygwin installed on it. Not quite as Good as Linux but it is a start.
  • Re:Lol don't (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2014 @05:05PM (#46718761)
    Powershell is just a shell. Does it have SSH? tar? bzip? awk? sed? a real grep alternative (findstr doesn't count)? rsync (robocopy doesn't count as it can't work over SSH)? tr? a million other tiny commands that can be linked together in novel ways?
  • Re:Themes... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rvw ( 755107 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @05:11PM (#46718845)

    The workers will still want to use MS Word, and Excel, and Exchange for email.

    Install OpenOffice or LibreOffice. Create symlinks to swriter.exe on the desktop. Rename them Word. Tell people that Word has a new icon. Set Writer to use DOC as default file format. For Calc you can do the same. This works for most people.

  • Re:Lol don't (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @05:11PM (#46718855)

    Linux is only free if your time is worthless

    There is a fallacy in your statement. Buying Windows doesn't get you any more than using free linux. Both Microsoft and linux distros provide updates, so that is a wash and both require somebody to maintain/support it, so that cost, too is a wash. In either case, your time is of the same value and not dependent on the operating system in question.

  • Re:Lol don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dishevel ( 1105119 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @07:01PM (#46719943)
    Powershell is a joke. When compared to a real command line. Cygwin is better than powershell. My main pet peeve?

    Powershell handles pipes stupidly. Really? No inter process communication using pipes?

    I run Windows, Linux and even a couple of Unix servers. I do not use powershell, I sure as hell have no use for Cmdlets. If I need to on Windows I will still use batch or WSH. Powershell wants to be a programming language and that want wrecks it as a decent command line. If you think that Powershell is a good replacement for a powerful and flexible Linux command line then it is obvious that you have no idea what can be done with a Linux command line.

  • Re:Lol don't (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dishevel ( 1105119 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @07:48PM (#46720357)
    IPC sucks in Powershell and you are thinking like a programmer. When you do work on servers you do not need or want a "Proper programming language" you want something that ties your entire system together and allows you to quickly make use of it all. Not just IPC. Linux command line runs cirlces around powershell in IPC (Which to those of us who do work on servers know is very important) the difficulty in starting up stuff in the background and tailing stuff you start up. grep, awk and sed. Then lets ad in the fact that most 3rd party tool in Linux expect to be able to be called in the command line. I have to tell you the ability to pop up a command line and tell GIMP to grab every .png in a specific directory rotate it 90 degrees and resize it to 900x900 then rename the file by appending it with "_900x900" and sticking them all into a new directory, then edit the permissions of the directory itself to allow others to see it, hit enter and move on to something else is pretty fucking useful. And it is soo much more powerful than that. It is not just for administration. Although the linux (everything is a file) system makes this much easier.

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