Switching to Linux

Switching to Linux is a subject that gives lots of people the heebie-jeebies. For some businesses, like those that run on mostly browser based or open source applications anyway, it wouldn't be any big deal. For other businesses though, switching to Linux might look like a daunting task.

September 30, 2011

One Company Switching To Linux

The Ernie Ball story always inspired me. I’ve been buying Ernie Ball guitar and bass strings almost exclusively since 1990 when I started guitar lessons. The company got raided by the software police a few years back. I believe the correct acronym is BSA. Regardless, they got fined a gigantic sum of money for (accidental it sounds like) illegal installations of software, and ended up switching to Linux everywhere they feasibly could. Here’s one version of the story if you want a look.

One of the things Sterling Ball mentions is not wanting to make the jump to Windows XP. 2000 was approaching its End Of Life I imagine. Right now, we’re looking at the same thing with XP. It’s been around for a while now, and the latest reports are that Microsoft will EOL it in 2014. I do not want to upgrade to the next Windows. I’ve seen Vista. It’s pretty, but that’s about it. 7 is probably about the same, although I heard that the system requirements are not quite so ridiculous. I wouldn’t know; I ran it for about an hour on my in-laws’ new laptop, and only ran it on mine because I forgot to tell my laptop’s new BIOS to boot from the Linux liveCD I had sitting in the drive.

Regardless, Windows is something I’ve personally decided to abandon (and WalMart, but for different reasons) so I don’t know how to support it very well now. Being the sort of resident IT fellow at the lumber yard (there’s no official position, I’m just the one that fixes stuff when it breaks) I’d really rather we started switching to Linux. When I think about supporting the newer versions of Windows, I lean very much toward the “I’ve got better things to do than learn to navigate THAT mess” side of the fence.

It turns out that the more people I talk to, the better off I am starting now. It looks like I’ve got a long road ahead of me. Perhaps it’s this way in several industries, but in the construction industry most software companies are in the dark ages as far as non-windows applications go.


Switching to Linux, One App at a Time

I’d really rather see someone jump into Linux with both feet, but that’s not always feasible. Some folks need to sort of ease into it. Start using some of the apps in Windows that you’ll be using in Linux where you can.

I had an email conversation last week with a proprietary software salesman, and asked him if the whole industry had some aversion to web (in particular browser) based software.  My dream, as I said in my my rant about open source construction software would be to quote everything from a smart phone or a tablet. This makes sense. Being out in the willy whackers of Maine, it’s not quite so important. But I would think that some of the bigger contractors in larger cities where there’s cell phone and wireless network signal EVERYWHERE would benefit exponentially if they could run quoting, planning, and CRM apps right on the jobsite.  

It looks like if I’m going to transition to Linux at work, I’ve got to find alternate ways to do things. You might too, if you’re really going to be switching to Linux. This might mean switching vendors. I mentioned in that rant (link is in the last paragraph) that I’m trying to find a vinyl window manufacturer who has browser based quoting software. This would be hard to do, as we have a good working relationship with our current vinyl window manufacturer. It would be a sad day for some that we said goodbye to them.

What about an ERP? We were using one that ran on a Linux server, but only allowed Windows clients. Now we’re running one that runs as a Java web app, and THOSE, Bub, are cross platform if they’re written right. This one is, as far as I can tell. The longer I’m at the lumber yard and find alternate ways to do things, the more I’m wiping XP machines that die and throwing Fedora or a *buntu of some sort in to revive the carcass.

In switching to Linux, I’m sure you’ll run into situations like this.  You can get around it though.  Don’t forget WINE.  It’s a Windows emulator (WINdowsEmulator — follow the capital letters) that lots of times can run software written for Windows.  I’ve used it to run Google’s Sketchup, which I plan on using to replace our kitchen design software.  I have NOT been able to use it to replace some of the estimating applications I’ve tried, for various reasons.  Again, you’ll run into similar situations I’m sure. I just keep telling myself “The answer is out there, somewhere…”

Keep at it.  Nobody said switching to Linux would be easy.  I will tell you though, when it’s all over there will be a GIGANTIC sigh of relief.

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