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From Windows to Linux

For many companies and individuals migrating from Windows to Linux makes sense. The reasons are compelling: greater stability and reliability, lower cost, access to application source code, greater security, and conformity with open standards, according to numerous independent studies and industry experts. But what does it really take to make this move. What risks are involved. Lets take a look. First its good to know LINUX is Not Windows.

Choosing a Linux distribution
When it comes to choosing a Linux distribution, there are a dizzying array of choices, including de facto standard Red Hat, Mandrake, SUSE, Mandriva, a Debian variant, Ubuntu /Kubuntu that are very close to Debian or Fedora, a Red Hat- and community-supported open source project to build a complete, general purpose operating system exclusively from free software.

Businesses usually can’t lose by going with a de facto standard, which today is SUSE, Debian, Red Hat, or Fedora. SUSE is backed by Novell, while the Java Desktop System is supported by Sun. Both are solid companies, and both distributions also are solid choices. SUSE can make a great deal of sense for companies used to managing their desktop environment with systems management tools like ZenWorks and SMS. But for businesses that have deployed Red Hat servers and have experience with the Red Hat network, extending their IT infrastructure with Red Hat desktops also can make good sense.

Debian has one advantage over these tools — once it is installed, it can be upgraded automatically over the Internet. “The process is so easy it’s downright unbelievable,”. “You don’t upgrade Debian with another CD, you simply keep it up to date with a few simple commands.” The downside, it is run by developers who don’t keep it as cutting-edge as Red Hat or SUSE Ubuntu.

Hardware migration
Most hardware manufacturers today support most Linux distributions. In addition, most Linux distributions today automatically detect most hardware, but in some cases, you might need specific drivers for new or unusual hardware. If your hardware falls into that category, you might encounter a hardware compatibility issue. Somebody eventually may write a driver for your problem hardware, but you might have to put your project on hold until you can locate an appropriate driver. The alternative is to buy new hardware.

In the case of laptops, you shouldn’t have much problem getting your graphics card to work, but just in case, consider downloading the Linux drivers from the manufacturer. Virtually all video cards are supported in 2D mode, which is all most users need for desktop productivity. However, depending on the card, you might not be able to gain support for 3D games, DVD playback or the TV-out capabilities of the card — features that aren’t generally required for the average work environment. Other home use issues are usually USB-related. For example, some digital cameras can’t be hooked up to Linux desktops, as well as some printers and scanners — at least without the services of an experienced Linux systems engineer. It’s also worth noting that Centrino notebooks don’t work with Linux.

Choosing a Window manager
Unlike Windows, Linux supports both GNOME and KDE(also look at this Post!!!), as well as a wide variety of window managers. Red Hat makes GNOME and KDE look and work alike(Fedora uses both KDE and Gnome). While GNOME has the fewest features and is least likely to confuse users with options, KDE is more feature-rich and powerful, but is so configurable that it could some to spend too much time working with it. Other, less commonly used window managers include XFCE, ICEWM, Enlightenment, Blackbox, Fluxbox and WindowMaker. Generally, these tools are for more advanced Linux users with specific needs or desire for greater customization. Given the choices, Petreley recommends KDE, while Rosen consider either KDE or GNOME reasonable. Rosen prefers ICEWM for thin client implementations. “It’s clean, fast and allows for maximum user productivity,” he says.

Application migration
Migrating from Microsoft Office to an open source office productivity suite isn’t too difficult, although some believe there is more work to do. In general, suites such as OpenOffice.org or Sun’s StarOffice work well and are about 90% compatible with MS Office.

There are still some compatibility issues, however. “Let’s say you’ve got a graphic in a Microsoft Word document. If you open it in OpenOffice.org, there is a pretty good chance that you won’t be able to view that chart or graph,” There are also some compatibility issues with presentation software within the suite, but spreadsheet functionality works well. Note that Ms Office macros won’t work in OpenOffice or StarOffice.

One option for migrating applications is Evermore Integrated Office (EIOffice) from Evermore Software LLC of Monterey Park, Calif. Written in Java and running on Windows, Linux, and other operating systems, this software functions as a single integrated office environment instead of a suite. EIOffice links data better than any other office suite he’s ever experienced.

Another option is CodeWeavers CrossOver Office, a Linux desktop productivity tool that allows users to run many office applications, such as Microsoft Office, Lotus Notes, and Adobe Photoshop. A more comprehensive solution is Win4Lin from NeTraverse Inc. of Austin, Texas, which allows users to run Windows 98 on top of Linux such that the application comes up on Linux. By installing Microsoft Office on top of this, you can actually run Microsoft Office on Linux. Update: Better still Wine has made a lot of progress, including new options and lots of bugs fixes. Wine is now one of the most recommended translation layers for running Windows apps on Linux.

Migrating proprietary and home-grown applications to Linux opens another can of worms. If a company is truly dependent on many of these applications, the migration process probably will be more difficult and lengthy. One solution is to use a remote desktop to allow employees to view those applications running on a Windows host while the clients run a Linux-based desktop. Another option is to use a product like Secure Global Desktop from Sun Microsystems or Citrix MetaFrame Access Suite from Citrix Systems Inc. to run Windows remotely. Yet another option is to rewrite those applications in Java or something equally operating system-agnostic.

Yet another option is to use VMware and run a full-blown client on top of Linux. At first glance this doesn’t make sense, but once you get into a customer’s environment and see the need for them to unify their desktop environment to a common standard, it starts to make more sense.

Migrating Mail, Calendar, and Personal Information Manager
The de facto standard for moving email, calendar, and PIM information from Microsoft Outlook to a Linux environment is Novell’s Evolution, included with most Linux distributions. For all intents and purposes, it’s a faithful clone of the Outlook interface, ensuring that anybody who uses Outlook will feel immediately comfortable with Evolution. Evolution provides everything Outlook provides — email, calendaring, meeting scheduling, contact management, and task lists. Evolution also can work well with existing Microsoft Exchange services using POP3 and IMAP4. Not leaving out Thunderbird

Another alternative is Kmail. With the KDE windowing environment, migration of settings and data between popular Windows clients and the Kmail or Opera Mail clients will be important to anyone who plans to support one of them as the corporate standard for email. Currently, these tools are not as widely used as other mail clients like Novell (formerly Ximian) Evolution and as such, have fewer import features. They also lack other interconnect features such as the Evolution connector for Exchange, Sheffey notes.

Internet browsing/Web services
While Windows provides two common browser options — Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator — Linux users have more choices. Those choices include Mozilla, Opera, and Konqueror. None of these browsers have major compatibility issues.
Update: And now you could also get the light and no-need-to-install Netscape Navigator 9 for Linux
HTML editing also can pose some challenges. As tools like Quanta, Bluefish, Eclipse and others continue to grow and mature, the functionality will quickly reach a point comparable to what can be found today on Windows even it is known that when a companydecides to move from Windows to Linux, Web developers and programmers like myself are not happy to learn some new languages. Those who have been developing under Microsoft ASP/Aspx would have to take some time to learn the power and ease of PHP.

Instant Messaging
No major problems should arise with instant messaging as it works today, since both GAIM and Kopete are full-featured, fully compatible instant messaging clients. The instant messaging field on all platforms face the same challenges — how to enable clients on different proprietary networks to connect and share with each other.

It’s worth noting that AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft and Skype all hold control of their instant messaging protocols. While the open source clients have figured out how to use these protocols, they could be changed by the protocol owners. If, for example, AOLdecides it needs to receive more revenue from ads via AIM, they could be locked out since open source clients don’t show ads. To circumvent this issue, Kabatology recommends open source instant messaging protocols like Jabber, which suits all of the same needs as the proprietary protocols, or better still Pidgin. With Pidgin you can communicate with MSN, Yahoo!, MySpaceIM, Google Talk and many more . Groupwise for Linux by Novell is another solution. This critical business productivity tool now includes an instant messaging client that addresses many of the security and audit concerns of instant messaging.

Database migration
Carefully examine the database and the data. Determine what you are trying to accomplish with the database. Only then can you plan what the new database environment should look like. Microsoft Access databases can be ported fairly easily to MySQL Database Server and PostgreSQL. In situations where migration problems occur, some enterprising vendors are creating solutions, such as Versora’s ProgressionDB, which deals with some of the most common conversion issues. Another option is SharePlex from Quest Software Inc. This data replication software, mostly used to migrate Oracle to Linux, provides support for thousands of rows per second for load distribution, disaster recovery, and migrations.

File sharing
Linux desktops should deploy Samba, an open source implementation of the SMB (Server Message Block) file sharing protocol. Samba can be installed on any Linux distribution and can replace, for example, a Windows NT domain controller — at no cost. Yet another option is WebDAV (World Wide Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning), a set of extensions to HTTP that facilitates collaborative editing and file management between remote users.
Konqueror–Browser/File Manager is an easy to-use-tool for file sharing between a mix Microsoft-Linux network

A challenge for mixed Windows/Linux environments, is permissions. “Unix-style permissions are not user-friendly,”. To combat this issue, we recommend options such as OpenAFS (an open source implementation of a file system first developed at Carnegie Mellon University that provides a client-server architecture for file sharing) and Netware NSS (Novell Storage Services), which soon will run native to Linux.

Multimedia applications
When it comes to video codecs, Linux is the place to be. There are several multimedia applications available to replace Windows Media Player, such as XMMS, Xine and mplayer, RealPlayer — good for streaming music, Totem the official music player for GNOME desktop enviroment. Its based on xine-lib or GStreamer . A video that would take all of the computing power of a P4 2.0 Ghz under Windows Media Player would barely touch the resources of a P3 500 Mhz running mplayer.

However, Linux does lack one major feature — digital rights management (DRM). Under a closed-source system, copy protection is far easier, as the communication channels from the protected media playing application to the operating system aren’t as well-known. But because Linux is far more flexible, redirecting the speakers to record a DRM’d MP3 or redirecting the video to record a DRM’s movie is much easier. But because the DRM companies don’t see Linux as a viable market and because DRM is much harder to truly lock down in Linux, Linux may be lagging in digitally distributed forms of media.

Kabatology suggests one solution — a plug-in from CodeWeavers that allows users to run things like Windows Media Player from Linux browsers using Wine (the Windows support libraries for Linux).

Major vendors, including Computer Associates and Veritas Software now merged with Symantac, offer client/server backup for Linux. Other backup solutions include Arkeia products from Arkeia Solutions, Backup Edge from Microlite Corp., and System Backup Administrator from Storix Inc. among others.

What’s left to accomplish

Although migrating from Windows to Linux is easier than ever before, there are still some issues and functions that could benefit from improvement.

Many believe that Linux needs a standard way of setting up Linux users and managing them from one administrative location, as can be done with Windows clients. Although it is possible to do so today, the lack of standards in this area can be discouraging, and lead to time-consuming, inefficient methods.

But by far, consensus seems to be that what’s needed to truly make Windows to Linux migration easier and more productive is more tools — and lots of them. In general, desktop tools are adequate, with the primary applications for migration in place and working well (groupware, office productivity, Internet). But just about every other application area needs tools for Linux — something independent software vendors (ISVs) generally must develop.

One example is in the financial management arena, where Intuit, for example, would be doing its user base a great service by supporting Linux for its QuickBooks applications, which millions of small companies use to manage their finances. Other products in this space that could support Linux include Moneydance and Gnucash. Linux also could benefit from the porting of tax preparation software. Dozens — even hundreds — of applications like these in a variety of niches will make all the difference.