Published in Dare magazine, August 2010

I am writing this using Open Office on a laptop with Ubuntu as it’s operating system, the  Open Source equivalent from Oracle of Word and Windows respectively. My exposure to  Open Source dates back to the 1990s. At that time I was a Director Finance & IT of Odyssey Tours, the famous travel company. Frustrated with continuous maintenance problems with Windows I was looking for ways to reduce this. I still remember the weekend that all the IT staff worked overtime to solve a broken link between a workstation and the database server. They finally discovered that the solution was the order in which two common Windows programs were installed. Frustratingly the Lessons Learned from this was zero! We had no idea what was so special about the version of the particular dll file that caused the problem.

Two years ago when I had to set up a new manufacturing unit for a Dutch MNC in Udupi, Karnataka I had to make selection choices. I was keen to do away with Windows software in order to reduce maintenance and high licensing fees. Most pc users only use email, a browser, a word processor and probably a spreadsheet program. Those users, like myself, can easily use a Linux pc as all the required software is freely available.

Regrettably very often there is just one crucial program that is only available on the Windows platform. Our company specific software to run our production machines was only essential for a couple of users. For our ERP system we opted for SAP Business One which I found very comprehensive for a manufacturing unit like ours. Unfortunately this was only available on a Windows platform. We did play around using a product called GoGlobal, a fast and affordable way to securely publish your Windows programs to your network, and apparently used at the time by Deccan airlines. However, that turned out to be only compatible with Debian Linux and we simply ran out of time to test this properly. A compromise was therefore warranted and I opted, albeit reluctantly, to use for the time being mainly Windows based pc’s.

Linux file, mail and web servers are all robust and well tested systems and you would be silly to select otherwise. We run ours on Centos, the community based enterprise Linux OS. It is based on RedHat without the bleeding edge technology for which Fedora is known. In a company one would like to see oneself as advanced but, believe me, certainly not when it comes to the use of software. Let other people encounter and solve the newly found bugs. You want your workforce active and not idle, frustrated with an overworked IT department.

These days to set up a file, mail and web server is quite easy and, if the required skill is not in house, one can hire a consultant to speed this up. I did hire Shekhar, a consultant from IT4enterprise.com, to solve some Active Directory related issues with our Linux file server. The IT manager, mainly acquainted with Windows, was very happy as he hardly has any outstanding tickets to resolve and was offered to follow any Linux course of his choosing during business hours.

The last few Linux software items we added were SugarCRM, a web based CRM solution and particularly handy for our roaming marketing staff, and WikiMedia, a wiki (of  Wikipedia fame) for our intranet which enhanced our documentation of policies tremendously. Finally we purchased a Synology Diskstation, a smart RAID5 NAS system which is available for Windows, Linux and Mac users. To my delight I discovered that the small 4TB box actually runs on a slimmed down version of Linux.

The bottom line is to get the most out of your IT investment. Linux skilled staff do cost more that staff trained to use Windows. However, I am convinced that this increased cost factor easily outweighs the extra problems Windows users have to face, not to mention the extra license fees.

To those that still doubt this I have the simple question: how many pc’s do you have on standby and how often to do replace the disk image of a pc user?