Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Standing on the ledge - to Office or not to Office

As you are moving from Windows to Linux on the desktop, you will have to cross the most difficult bridges of all: Office applications. Or productivity tools. In short you have to ask yourself, "To MSOffice or not to MSOffice, that is the question." It is entirely possible to keep MSOffice and use Linux, despite what purists say. I, for one, is still married to MSOffice, still and I'll explain why at the end.
Coming back to the question at hand, your options are :
  1. OpenOffice - an alternative application suite. It can read and save files into MSOffice file formats. The best part about it is that it also runs on Windows. So as you are moving people across, you can have them using OpenOffice on Windows and later on Linux. However, this endeavor is so large, it in itself is as a daunting a task as moving people into Linux. The true reason you should have people moving across is that most people do not use all of MSOffices features all the time. They simple can't. If they do clerical work, moving across is a cinch. But if they are advanced users, it will be as painful as a root canal minus the pain killers. Heck, I have some problems with alignment when moving from OpenOffice in Win to OpenOffice in Linux. If you share files out side the company, it then gets really troublesome.
  2. Cross Over office - A commercial tool that allows you to install and use MSOffice (plus some other Windows applications) on Linux. Like driving on the other lane when the road is empty. It simply works. Well, almost all. You see, what they didn't tell you is that there is a reason why MSOffice is on Windows only. It is just because it uses low-level software calls. I have heard that one of the reason the Windows on Alpha was dropped because it couldn't run MSOffice very well. Some version of Office actually replaced OS files during installation. What other application would do that? So the result is that the major MSOffice applications work fine but some fringe and not-so-fringe applications can be tripped up (e.g. Clipart Manager).
  3. Like above, Office over Wine - Wine, which is not a Windows Emulator, is designed to run Windows applications on Linux by fooling the application into thinking that it is on Windows, but not. In fact, CrossOver Office is partly Wine. So, why use CrossOver when you can get wine for free. Let's just say that I like my hair too much as this age of my life.
So to sum up, there area three questions you need to ask, the acid test:
1. Do you use Macros? Do things pop out and ask you stuff when you open a template or document? If not, then you answer is most likely no.
2. Do you use outlines or the outlining feature in MSWord? If you are asking, "Wha-?", then your answer would be no.
3. Do you have MS Access databases that you use regularly? Thing about conversion is that MSAccess files are not part of the deal.

If you answered yes to any of the above, go Crossover Office. If not, then you are a prime candidate for switching over from MSOffice to OpenOffice. You will save a ton of money later, especially as you grown and add PCs and realize you don't have to pay for another MSOffice license.
Oh, BTW, I don't use Macros but I love the outlining feature so much, it is a deal breaker.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Standing on the ledge - Part 1

If you are thinking about making the transition from whatever to Linux, read on.

A lot of people asked me two questions since I made the switch, 'Is it hard?' and 'Can you do everything you want to in Windows?'
The answer to the last one is a resounding yes. In fact, after switching from Windows, whenever I have to use a Windows machine, I find it very restrictive and most of my tools are gone. Linux give you so many choices and options, you can't just make up your mind and stick to one set. I find myself switching from KDE to GNOME and back every few months. Without losing access to the core programs I use.
The answer to the first one is 'Hell, yes. It was very hard.' But I was on my own and in retrospect, could have avoided a lot of heartache if there were someone to tell me what to do or what to avoid. This series is dedicated to those thinking about making the switch or the jump. Something to think about and do before making the leap. Most of it will sound like me talking to you as a network administrator but even if you are switching alone, everything still applies. Think of yourself as your own administrator.

First, Why are you making the jump or at least thinking about it. The reasons have to be sound because you have to do it for the right reasons. If not, you will be disappointed or you will find it not suited for you and you switch back. Time lost once will never be regained.
If you are switching for idealogical reasons (i.e. not wanting to pay Microsoft Tax), then you are a Believer. Nothing I say will discourage you and all pain is worth suffering. Just make sure other people involved believe it too. Note to Believer: All proponents of idealogies (prophets, do-gooders) face lynch mobs. Sort of a Darwinian thing about idealogies, those that survive lynch mobs are most likely superior.
Remember, it has to get worse before it gets better.

If you are thinking about saving costs, I will tell you right now it will be some time before you see significant cost savings. Unless, of course you include licence costs for a large number of people. The is where the most savings will be. But for every cost factor you take away, you will be replacing it with another one. Training or retraining will cost. Reinstallation or upgrades of older PCs will cost. Sure the PCs won't crash as often but people who switch to Linux forget that Linux may not be hard on CPU speed but it does require some amount of memory before things really fly. My suggestion is that hit 256MB as soon as you can. If you are looking at older PCs, 128MB will work. While on this issue, sometimes it's not even the RAM. Getting a new video card with more memory works wonders too. Coming back to cost factors, live with the fact that cost factors are just going to be replaced not eliminated. But if you are smart about it, it just won't cost as much. That is, each cost factor replaced, will likely be less in value.
That said, hunker down for some productivity loss and doubts (or doubting people) nagging you. Remember, it has to get worse before it gets better.

Update: Part 2 and Part 3

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Buying reality

You reality is your own perception. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck then.. you know. But what if all you see are ducks. Do you think you'd know a chicken if it walked by?
There is a point to this. I make a living from computers (big surprise). And I work with a people out from colleges who are making their first career jobs and people whose businesses are starting to break out from the local market. They all need computers and they all want to use the best at the least possible cost. Recommendations are big thing for me and my clients (and lately, even my suppliers) bring in people they know who can use my expertise. I use my own office setup to demonstrate some of the uses you can get from using open source solutions and Linux in particular. The thing I am getting used to is the response, "You can do that with a computer?" or "It can work like that?"
Thats what bothers me. It used to be the whiz bang stuff that gets them, then the free but high quality stuff (Mozilla, Gimp). But now the stuff that draw theses responses are down right trivial.
I pointed out to a potential client that he could set up a print queue and log all print jobs and the information of each job. He looked at me and point out that wasn't everybody just printing directly to the printer. If everyone could see the printer, couldn't they just bypass the queue? I walked to the printer and turned off SMB-based sharing via the control panel. The printer disappered from the network but I demonstrated that I could still print via the queue. He was bowled over. Seems that he has a problem with his workers printing on the expensive color laser printer after hours. At first he would disconnect the printer at about 5 but stopped that after salespeople complained of not being able to get color brochures printed for clients after hours. The growth in his company was directly the result of his sales staff being able to come in at odd hours and do work, so he couldn't deny their request. The notion of a print queue and the ability to turn off access to the printer (selectively by network protocol) never crossed his mind.
Do you see that? The solution had little to do with open source or Linux or anything new for that matter. Print queues have been around for ages. But what surprised me more was that when I mentioned this to a younger co-worker, he said that compared to what he saw at college (local community college), the stuff at the office was downright revolutionary. The free-flow mess of network and services on Windows networks at college was a stark contrast to the controlled environment at the office where everything just worked or that if it failed something else was waiting to back that up.
Which brings me back to the ducks. One of the problems with computing right now is the dominance of Windows and MS. All people see are Windows. Their sheer ubiquity has blinded a lot of people. They simply don't know any other way. And it if means having to live with unoptimised working environments that often is not productive, so be it. A recent report said that Gartner research says that desktop Linux won't be taking off (I have issues with that but to a certain degree agree that Linux has problems on office desktops). Maybe the case with that is that people don't know better. Maybe it's time to look over and think, "Fried chicked sounds good."

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