Getting Linux Onto the Desktop: A Small Business Guide - www.reallylinux.com
Onto the Desktop:
A Small Business Guide
By Mark Rais, author of the new beginner Linux book
Linux for the Rest of Us.
Organizations can beneficially and successfully
make the switch to Linux on the Desktop by keeping in mind two core
factors. By applying the foundational principals behind two factors,
even the most techno-phobic and proprietary software entrenched small sized
companies can painlessly move to Linux on the Desktop.
First is the Human Factor, which
includes the psychological issues with change, any kind of change.
The human factor also takes into account the challenges of individual biases,
whether they are against or for Linux conversion.
The second essential factor for a positive and efficient conversion
to Linux is directly related to the Hardware Factor.
As obvious as it is, it can’t be understated that hardware and the planning
in relation to hardware plays a substantial role in smooth Linux conversion.
Addressing both the Human and Hardware factors in relation
to your small business will ensure a far easier and more efficient Linux
conversion. This article tries to summarize principles and examples
of how to realistically apply these two core factors.
Human Factor is Number One
For some small business leaders I’ve consulted,
the human factor is either a notion to be rejected or ignored. After
all, in a small sized operation, personnel need to “go with the flow” and
often concretely follow their business leader. Very small company
leadership, with less than ten personnel, often incorrectly assume that
interpersonal issues and technical decisions are not correlated at all.
Yet the human factor is probably one of the most significant in not
only how smoothly the actual Linux conversion goes but also how well it
is adopted and beneficial to your organization.
One very effective method to encourage even the most recalcitrant personnel
to adopt Linux is to take the four-step approach listed below:
Step 1. Introduce the Idea
Step 2. Introduce the Product
Step 3. Introduce the First Result
Step 4. Introduce the Personal Plan
1. Introducing the Idea is as simple
as presenting to your staff a brief review of what the Linux Operating
System is (leave out the tech talk), how it currently benefits other organizations
(there are plenty of examples on the web right now), and that you are planning
to explore the idea of using Linux as well.
Depending on your organization, the time between Step 1. and Step 2.
could be as short as a few days or as long as a few weeks. Wait any
longer and you’re going to need to redo Step 1!
“Real encouragement comes when people see with their
own eyes a Linux Desktop interface... ”
2. Introducing the Product should
be a simple demonstration of Linux, whether this is a brief tutorial presented
to the staff or a more substantial hands-on experience depends on your
budget and time. Real encouragement comes when people see with their
own eyes a Linux Desktop interface and how applications are all very similar
to their existing desktop and experiences. When it comes down to the
nuts and bolts of daily use, such as opening and using a file, it will
be the same basic function whether you’re in Windows or Linux. People
who have only heard about Linux, but who have never seen Linux, need to
know this truth.
What doesn’t tend to work out well is either handing out free Linux
CDs to your employees and telling them to “go home and try it out for yourself”
or giving out cool Linux t-shirts. In the latter case, it just looks
to employees who don’t know enough about Linux like a sale job and basically
baloney. In the former case, those silly “just go home and try it
out” lines are bound to get someone who’s already techno-phobic seriously
in trouble – like the guy who came to me at the point of desperation having
completely cleansed his PC of all of his files and programs and wondering
“where they are now that I’ve installed Linux?”
I’ve had to help resolve this latter issue so frequently that I ended
up publishing a book for new Linux users (Linux
for the Rest of Us, in case you know someone in need), just to
save them from the angst and anguish. Linux conversion can be beneficial
and fun, and does not ever have to be frustrating.
3. Introducing the First Result may
be one of the most encouraging steps, not only to your personnel, but also
to you. This first step basically proves the point loud
and clear that Linux is the real thing and does promote cost savings or
performance gains. The first result comes from taking the initial
step into the Linux world. Conversion to Linux, even if it begins with
a simple network server, will help encourage staff to see Linux as something viable
4. Introducing the Personal Plan is
in essence the introduction of the plan to convert each person’s computer
to Linux. If you’ve done the previous three steps, this fourth should
not only be already assumed and understood by each staff member, but also
accepted. Passive resistance, phobias, and even very real concerns
such as “what happens to all my existing files?” need to be addressed before
you send your IT tech to place a Linux CD into the drive of your staff’s
computers. Planning and then conveying the planning for each individual
staff member’s transition to Linux on his/her PC is essential and must
obviously be addressed in conjunction to your hardware plan.
You’ve done everything you can to help address the psychological fears
and concerns with switching your business computers to Linux. Yet,
there may still be unresolved fears and phobias that could potentially
make what should be a smooth Linux conversion into a volcanic eruption.
You think I’m exaggerating? In one business setting an employee stood
in front of his computer system, wrapped his arms around the monitor and
began shouting at the IT tech “you are not converting me to Linux.”
In most cases, such strange and often serious eruptions don’t occur.
Instead, a subtle, discrete negation of your Linux conversion plan begins
to brew. In the copy room, or at the company kitchenette people start
talking about how it is a bad plan.
“The Human and Hardware
factors must be addressed and implemented in parallel as part of a single plan.”
Why would this exist if you’ve already taken all of the Human Factor
steps above? This results only if your personnel communication plan
and your hardware plan don’t coincide. The Human and Hardware
factors must be addressed and implemented in parallel as part of a single plan.
The two factors must be coupled in order to ensure a beneficial and productive
conversion to Linux on the desktop.
There are of course many reasonable ways to actually convert
Windows machines to Linux for desktop use. Undeniably, one of the
easiest methods is to simply do a complete backup of each PC and then place
Linux on the hard drive as a stand alone OS.
This method actually works quite well as long as it includes:
1. a thorough back-up of data;
2. the installation of like or compatible applications (such as SUN’s StarOffice suite or OpenOffice);
3. the restoring of user data and files in an organized and systematic
4. and basic training for employees to traverse their new system and
get back to work.
However, I’ve found that in larger scope settings, where more than a
dozen employees are affected and limited down time can be accommodated,
this method leaves too many holes and questions. For example, what
about a back out plan in case something goes terribly wrong with the desktop
conversion? Often, even with data backups and plenty of time, a particular
PC will give the installation software a real hassle and consume far more
time than it should.
In one installation scenario an IT Tech took
an average of 45 minutes to convert each machine, until he encountered
a very differently configured system that had an unrecognizable SCSI hard
drive, video card, modem, etc. It took the tech over four hours to
address this single machine’s idiosyncrasies. Few of the issues had
to do with Linux so much as the ancient and unsupported hardware.
There are also times when Linux simply does not include certain core functionality
or device drivers that your hardware needs. In both cases the installation
and conversion process will take far longer. With a reasonably thorough
review of potential hardware issues as part of your installation planning,
and prior to any installation, delay points can be avoided or at least
A more satisfactory answer to addressing potential hardware
pitfalls is to take the time and add a little extra money to the conversion
budget to ensure that redundancy and back-out planning is included.
This will more than compensate in returns including keeping the time to
convert individual machines to Linux down, in most cases to less than one
hour per each PC. I’ve had a lot of folks ask me how this is possible,
only to discover for themselves that it takes simply a little extra money
per PC and some additional preplanning.
The Dual Boot Option
One way to reduce the time of individual conversions and to further
resolve the phobias and fears that may exist is by installing Linux onto
a second hard disk drive in the PC. The boot loader would reside
on the first (master where Windows is installed) hard drive and allow a
dual boot machine.
“I know this may sound like
blow to Linux purists,
but it also helps hesitant companies
to see a viable
plan to move
Linux to the desktop.”
By leaving the existing OS and the existing hard disk in tact, but adding
a second drive, you gain an inexpensive means to decrease down time, conversion
issues, and potential pitfalls. I know this may sound like a terrible
blow to Linux purists, but it also helps hesitant companies to see a viable
plan to move Linux to the desktop.
Specifically, several benefits from this type of hardware installation
· Far less psychological barriers to desktop conversion since
it is a true dual boot system and nothing is “lost.”
· Faster implementation and installation time, although data-backup
must be done regardless.
· Compatibility and available application issues are resolved
since both Operating Systems coexist.
There are of course drawbacks to this plan:
· Cost per machine for Linux conversion will go up by around
$60, which is the cost of a new hard disk drive kit (in my specific conversion
case it was with Western Digital 40GB Ultra ATA/100 EIDE at $55 each).
· Personnel have the ability to choose and use either OS, which
may not be optimal in fostering a change in mindset and resolving longer
term licensing costs.
· The boot loader information will reside on the Windows hard
disk drive and if an issue arises with this drive it will make both Operating
The good part is that such a dual boot, gradual conversion plan offers
reasonable solutions to each of the issues noted above. For instance,
the cost per machine for new hard disk drives is more than compensated
in the long term by placing a quality new disk into each PC, which will
likely be larger and offer better performance with Linux. The boot
loader concern is addressable so long as emergency boot disks exist for
the PCs, to ensure Linux can be recovered even if the boot loader on the
master drive fails.
But the human factor of personnel sticking to their old operating system
rather than using Linux in the dual boot is also addressable. To
make sure that even in a dual boot scenario office staff do not cling to
their past desktop but acclimate quickly to the new desktop simply requires
a “conversion plan.” All of the employees know they will have a dual
boot system that is fully functional for the first few weeks (a set amount
of time defined by you in the plan) to ensure all of the kinks are worked
out and that they will be able to keep working and operational during the
conversion. At the end of the first few weeks, most of the data and
programs used on the Windows drive will then either be deleted or moved
to the Linux drive by the same IT person doing the initial conversion.
This pragmatic approach forces personnel to focus on learning and using
Linux within set and reasonable timeframes, rather than reverting back
to booting into their old OS for daily tasks. It also reduces anxiety
about the conversion to a Linux Desktop because you’ve basically kept the
entire old world in tact for a time as a fail safe. Those programs
or issues that have not yet been addressed or resolved for Linux can still
reside on the original drive and remain operational as long as they are
needed. This is especially important if a particularly vital application
does not yet exist for Linux. It also addresses the issue of forcing
the conversion into tight deadlines. Employees enjoying the new Linux
desktop, getting acclimated, while still having the old OS and data around
makes a world of difference for the IT tech dealing with hardware issues
A smooth, beneficial and productive conversion comes as a result of
addressing both the fundamental Human Factor and the Hardware
Factor in your Linux Desktop plan. Such a plan also resolves
many small business concerns and phobias of having Linux on the desktop.
Concerns can easily and systematically be addressed to gain the substantive
and very tangible benefits of licensing and maintenance cost reduction.
Linux on the desktop, as a result of a smooth conversion, is also likely
to address a number of performance issues as well.
As more and more small businesses are realizing today, Linux belongs
not only in the server room, but also on the desktop, offering cost reduction
and future freedoms from licensing and proprietary software. And
most importantly, a conversion to Linux on the desktop is a reasonable
and attainable goal.
Mark Rais authored the recently released beginner Linux
book Linux for the Rest
of Us, and has written articles on various small business Linux
topics including Moving
to Linux: A Small Business Guide, as well as serving as a
senior manager in the IT industry for six years.
More articles on switching to Linux are available from ReallyLinux.com:
Copyright © 2003 Mark Rais. Published to the web by REALLYLINUX.COM xv31503
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