Top 5 Linux Migration Tips For Small Offices

by Matt Hartley

When most people think of switching their office to Linux, the very idea of getting started must seem overwhelming. Linux guru Matt Hartley is here to help.

When most people think of switching out their office to one Linux distribution or another, the very idea of getting started with the needed migration must seem completely overwhelming. Not because using Linux is difficult -- rather, the task at hand with getting personnel and equipment up to the challenge is daunting.

To respond to this challenge, I have arranged my top tips in such a manner as to make the transition for an experienced Linux user helping inexperienced users in the migration process as painless as possible.

Tip # 1 -- Overcoming Installation Issues

So what is the hang-up with getting the average SOHO (small office, home office) off to a good start with a fairly straightforward Linux migration? In most cases, it starts with PCs that, for whatever reason, will not work with the installation CD for the selected Linux distro. This can mean that the "made for Windows" desktop/laptop is just not going to be an option with the Linux distribution being installed. In some cases, simply trying a different distribution can solve the install problems.

Desktop PCs generally do not give any installation issues. Notebooks, on the other hand, are often times going to provide problems with wireless, often sound, and in rare cases video usage.

  • Wireless: Any wireless woes to be had with Linux can be overcome fairly easily with a good notebook-ready distribution such as Fedora or Ubuntu. PCLinux is also good for when you are looking to stick with Broadcom integrated chipsets, although if you are tired of jumping through hoops with Windows wireless drivers and NDISWrapper, using RaLink or Intel wireless devices in Fedora or Ubuntu will yield them most favorable results. Obviously as not all notebooks are going to give you access to the same sort of expansion slots, going USB makes a lot of sense in the long haul. This is why I like devices using RaLink's rt73usb driver, as it has been a clear winner for a number of years now for those wanting 802.11g wireless connectivity. With both Ubuntu and Fedora, it works out of the box.

  • Sound/audio: I have only encountered this issue once on a really old Compaq laptop. So it should be said that while not having your notebook's sound card detected is possible, it is not likely to happen in most cases. While the "gurus" will assure you that you can compile or modify a solution with enough work, the smart move is something a bit different -- bypass the problem altogether, use a USB headset or speakers: Problem solved.

  • Video card: Face it, when you boot from a live CD just to see a black screen, it can leave a really bad taste in your mouth. This bad taste becomes more of a long-lasting bad taste as you find that in very rare cases, even VESA mode with every boot parameter known to man in place, still leaves you with access to the desktop GUI. If you are using a notebook, you might be out of luck short of trying another distro. On a desktop machine, try swapping the video card. In the case of integrated video cards, try disabling it from the PC's BIOS and inserting a PCI video card in its place.
  • In a perfect world, you will find that most Linux distributions install fine on the desktops you have around the office. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. So, whenever possible, test the PCs you have in mind for the migration to the new operating system before explaining everyone around you that the office is about to move to Linux. It will save you time and potentially embarrassment should one or more PCs prove to be a problem with regard to hardware compatibility.

    In short, do your homework before setting out on a huge migration with all of the PCs in your office.

    Tip # 2 -- Selecting and Installing Software

    As much as it pains me to say this, not everyone in your SOHO is going to be gung-ho about the idea of dropping their familiar copy of MS Office to, instead, begin using Open Office in its place. While you might be able to make the transition easily enough, you'll want to take a less heavy-handed approach with your co-workers.

    With proper MS licensing in hand, you might wish to look into using CrossOver Office. A commercialized version of WINE, CrossOver is a great way to keep your peers from lynching you for deleting their favorite office suite of all time, while still being able to keep to your timetable for the Linux migration.

    By allowing the rest of the office the freedom to use the office applications they choose -- be it Open Office or MS Office, you will ensure that the switch to the Linux desktop does not suddenly turn into a mutiny over something completely avoidable.

    Tip # 3 -- Be Open to Mixed Feedback During the Migration

    During the course of the switch to Linux, you will, I repeat WILL, have some co-workers who are not interested in change. And should they happen to be your superior, it would serve you well to take their criticism to heart.

    In most cases, this criticism can be halted by simply making sure that you provide access to that person's expected programs, most often MS Office and often, access to Outlook as well. Bundle this with OTA (over the air) access to the BES/MS Exchange server as per usual, and chances are they will not be a big problem for you during the migration process.

    In some cases, it's as simple as ensuring that the user's desktop wallpaper looks the same as it did previously. Don't laugh; you would be shocked at how often this alleviates those who fear change to a new desktop environment.

    Tip # 4 -- Introduce New Software in Non-forceful Way

    Another tip that will save you some headaches is introducing new FOSS (Free and Open Source) software as something new to try out when things are slow around the office. This generally yields far better results that forcing it down the user's throats as they are already dealing with a switch from Windows to Linux. Anxiety is already running high, so showing off what an application can do often times will leave the user curious enough to try it for themselves.

    Based on my experience doing this, two things will happen. Some people will switch or ask to be switched to the applications as they run faster in a native environment. On the flip side however, others will be so turned off by the differences the apps present in contrast to their close source alternatives that using CrossOver Office to execute their proprietary apps will not bother these users in the slightest. After all, they are just happy knowing that they are still able to use their beloved MS Word software!

    By introducing new software in this manner, you are able to help users in your office discover new software or at worst, completely forget about their reluctance to using the new desktop, as they are just happy to have their familiar software. Either way, you win.

    Tip # 5 -- Lock Down the Computers

    For some offices, there is software in place that prevents users from installing and using unauthorized software without the OK from management. In general, most of the time you will do fine just making sure that settings are not being changed by those who might end up creating problems without a full understand of the new desktop environment.

    Should your office be such a place, then I would encourage the use of either Pessulus (GNOME users) or the Kiosk Admin Tool (KDE users). With either application, the administrator will be able to lock down the office computers so that employees can concentrate on working, rather than trying to enable the latest Linux 3D effects or installing a copy of SuperTux. For locking out additional items not found in either of the two programs above, the administrator can also take control from the user groups.

    As for taking control over protecting your network and doing so without any help from Windows, I would suggest looking into Untangle. Everything from OpenVPN to Web Content filtering is made available -- free of charge.

    Adapted from Intranetjournal.com.

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    This article was originally published on Tuesday Aug 26th 2008
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