Migrating to Linux – one step at a time

By   |  May 28, 2004

If yours is a small five person company, migrating to Linux in one big push might just work, said James Thomas, speaking at Novell\’s annual Brainshare conference in Johannesburg, South Africa yesterday. \”But if you\’re an enterprise, you need to plan the migration very carefully.\”

\”There are very few organsiations that can afford to do a complete rip-and-replace approach to moving over to Linux,\” said Thomas. Not only is it likely to cost more than a staged approach, but it is \”also very likely to get people\’s backs up.\”

A better approach is to prepare users for the coming change – by using open source applications on their existing operating system first, before switching them over to a new and unfamiliar operating system – and communicating the changes to them. \”Communication is critical, because if users can blame you for not being able to work they will, and they\’ll not work.\”

Communication is also important to get stakeholder buy-in. \”The managing director and the financial director are also going to be affected by the change, so you need their support.\” Besides, says Thomas, if they are not supporting you and you\’re doing this in the back room then your chances of success are significantly limited.

The best place to start a migration is with the office suite, the tool usually the most used by employees. The obvious replacement is OpenOffice.org which runs on Windows as well as Linux and other Unix systems, says Thomas. Switching over to OpenOffice.org already saves the company money because OpenOffice is free software. \”And file formats and compatability are very good between OpenOffice and Microsoft Word … so you don\’t need to set up a programme to mass convert all your existing documents to a new format.\”

In fact, says, Thomas, because Microsoft\’s newer formats for documents are being based on XML, future file compatability may actually be better than it already is.

The advantage of switching users to OpenOffice on Windows is that they only have to deal with the change of one element of their desktop and not the whole environment they work in. Later the operating system transition will be significantly less traumatic.

The next thing to do, says Thomas, is identify other elements of your IT systems that can be migrated. Thomas advises that you shoudl look for suiteable replacement applications that can run on Linux. And for those that there are not suitable alternatives he suggests organisations look at web-enabling the application or for very specific applications, consider a terminal server-based approach such as Citrix. He also advises only changing one portion of your IT systems at a time. \”Migrate your desktops and servers independently of one another\” to limit the disruption to users.

And when you are ready to migrate, he says, try and do it in sync with your repair, upgrade and maintenance processes. So if you have already written off your hardware and are about to upgrade then this is the best time to migrate. If you\’re in the middle of a cycle, however, consider doing the migration in stages, for example when a PC breaks and has to be replaced anyway, use it as an opportunity to install Linux.

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