by Mark Rais, author of the
new beginner Linux book, Linux
for the Rest of Us
ith Microsoft pushing for Windows NT retirement and Linux applications maturing rapidly this is a unique
moment. There has never been a more opportune time to switch operating systems.
This brief article
provides a glimpse at the significant number of applications available to those
seeking a switch from Microsoft NT to Linux.
In a strange and perhaps macabre irony,
close to the horrible September 11th tragedy of 2001, Microsoft first officially
announced their decision to retire Windows NT. By July 1st of this
year, the standard edition will not be available through the system
builder channel, and support will run out by July (Microsoft
Halfway through this substantive retirement, which is impacting large
and small corporations world wide, another phenomenon is happening related
to Linux. Just as Microsoft is pressing for further acceptance and
migration towards its newer Windows server product line, a wave of significant
application successes are impacting the Linux world.
Substantive strides have been made in the performance and security of
recent Linux server flavors based on the stable Linux
kernel. Many of these flavors have also been thoroughly tweaked
to the point in which I have personally seen a Linux server outperform
far more expensive or numerically more servers running other OS's.
However, although the OS itself has gained great strides, applications
and their availability has been a reason for hesitation among some corporations.
They have tended to delay migration from Microsoft to Linux, holding out
to avoid affecting business critical applications and to better evaluate
Now, however, the time has come to seriously consider switching, as
many of the key applications for Linux have matured significantly.
Core applications are far beyond simple compatibility and are making substantive
impact in the business mainstream.
I provide only a minor sampling of this below:
Office Email Serving
In an excellent Newsforge article
Robin "roblimo" Miller notes the benefits of replacing Exchange Server
Pro. Calling it a corporate email/groupware alternative to Microsoft's
Exchange Server is both reasonable and accurate, although it is not Opensource.
Similarly there is also the server from Bynari called InsightServer.
At the same time, SuSe has been promoting its release
of OpenExchange Server, which is also less expensive and believed more
manageable than MS Exchange Server. A brief summary and links for
OpenExchange Server are located here.
Considering where Microsoft Exchange servers and their market
share were just a year or two ago, these three alternatives
are profoundly impacting corporate perspectives. And for those well
versed with Linux, I should not miss the fact that the sendmail
utility continues to do its job across many corporate servers.
Office Proxy and Firewalls
By now these two aspects of Linux have been well proven. Firewall
setup and configuration as well as getting an office web proxy established
are renowned attributes of Linux servers, with most versions offering not
only tools like squid
(see also this
helpful article), but GUI interfaces to make custom configuration changes
easy. And as always, Linux was written as a network operating system
from its inception and has long since been successful in this arena.
Microsoft Outlook, IE, and the Office Suite
Undeniably, Ximians Evolution
email and productivity application has been making inroads with companies
struggling to address the licensing and market dominance of Microsoft Outlook.
Evolution provides an almost mirror of the Outlook features and functionality
at a substantially better price and with far more gentle licensing terms.
A major leader in the Linux applications world, Evolution is certainly
not the only competing tool to Outlook. There are others well worth
mentioning to keep people clear on just how much really exists for Linux.
A couple other options I know of personally among many: phpgroupware
To address the functionality and use of Internet Explorer we also find
Linux based web browsers with noteworthy performance and compatibility.
Among a few of the choices, all of which provide an excellent browsing
experience are Netscapes Mozilla,
KDE Konquerer, Gnome Galeon,
As an added experience benefit, these distinct browsers operate well with
one another on the same Linux system, which tends to be unique to Linux
and is a real benefit for the many people who must use more than just IE
Of course, in the general shrink-wrapped applications categories now
available for Linux, a standout remains SUNs StarOffice
Suite, and its comparable Opensource version, OpenOffice
well used world wide. Fully compatible with Microsoft and many other
applications, the suite offers a feature rich environment that is similar
to the Microsoft Office Professional experience and gains from its stability
and performance in the Linux environment -- as well as in its far lower
price. It may be further validation of a trend among Linux applications
to provide More for Less.
Custom and Proprietary Applications
In business settings where a history of legacy applications exist,
Linux offers corporate IT and software development teams the tools for
long-term benefits. In a number of situations, business applications
have been home grown and significantly modified with custom functionality
and code around their NT environment. In such situations the question
remains the same.
Is it more beneficial to rewrite custom applications for
the 2000+ environment or to begin a transition to Opensource? In a number
of cases, the mid-to-long term benefits are so apparent that a shift to
Opensource becomes not only rational, but also obvious. Many IT leaders I've talked with
prefer to begin a transition now, rather than to rewrite twice -- once for NT's retirement and the
second time for long term benefits of Opensource. To help facilitate
a move to Opensource, there are many established tools for Linux porting.
Also, for those considering the near term impact, there are useful tools to help lessen the pain
of any transition by letting you run Windows programs
under Linux native including Wine,
which is an Opensource Windows API emulator for Linux. For those
who are locked in to their Microsoft applications for some time due to
licensing terms, there is always the opportunity to use the reasonably
priced commercial alternatives to run this software under Linux such as:
Office, which is a company owned product that allows use of MS Office
products running under Linux; and Win4Lin,
also a company product that allows the running of Windows software under
Waiting May Not Pay Off
Waiting longer to make a decision, for example until the completion
of NT retirement, and then move to the benefits of Opensource may potentially
result in greater long term costs and a more difficult road. If the
paradigm is shifting, and the cost basis and even the support basis is
changing so dramatically in the next year or two with NT retiring, etc.,
the timing for a decision becomes more urgent.
Therefore, now is a very reasonable moment to assess what may be
gained from both the licensing freedoms and the benefits of using Linux.
If a corporation is already beginning the transition plan from NT to
something else, it is in the best interest financially and strategically
to assess the benefits of Linux. Undeniably, with the advent of ever
improved and mainstream applications for Linux and the continued retirement
of NT server support, there has never been a more opportune time to switch
Mark Rais has written a number
of articles and books to help those seeking to better understand the benefits of Linux
including: the new beginner Linux book, Linux
for the Rest of Us, the featured article Moving
to Linux: Introduction to Linux and the article Getting
Linux on to the Desktop.
Rais' experience also includes over
six years as a senior manager in the IT industry. For more information
on getting started with Linux please see our Linux
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