I was even more surprised by the ripple effect that changing the operating system had on the computing infrastructure. Because Windows was being replaced, a series of questions arose around other technology choices. The first, probably somewhat obviously, was what to do about Windows-based applications that had no Linux versions.
We are lucky that our shop runs very standard applications, primarily modern, browser-based ones, so the bulk of applications worked on Linux transparently. The only major application to require an alternative was Microsoft Office. Fortunately, the fix was easy; LibreOffice had everything that we needed and is built into Linux Mint.
Moving from MS Office to LibreOffice can be simple or intimidating depending on outside dependencies, complexity of use scenarios, heavy use of macros, etc. We were lucky that for us the move was trivial, across the board.
Next to be questioned was SharePoint. Without desktop Active Directory integration, Microsoft Office integration and Exchange integration, was the overhead of running a heavy SharePoint installation of appreciable value to our organization? SharePoint put up the biggest fight, as it truly is a nearly irreplaceable system. In the end, however, without the slew of Microsoft integrated components SharePoint was deemed too costly and complex to warrant using on its own in our environment.
One by one, Microsoft products whose values were established through their tight integration with each other began to be eliminated in favor of lower-cost, more flexible alternatives. As they were removed, the value that they had cumulatively created diminished, making each one less and less valuable without the others.
Before the move to a Linux desktop, we had been preparing to install Lync as a replacement for both our instant messaging platform and our telephony platform. Needless to say, we cancelled that project and kept our current systems, which integrate really well with Linux and cost much less.
Even applications that we thought were untouchable, such as Windows-based accounting systems, ended up being less sacred than we had anticipated. New applications were found, and systems were migrated.
As we continued eliminating Microsoft-based applications, it became apparent that using Active Directory for centralized authentication was not cost effective. This piece will take quite some time to phase out completely as creating a new, centralized authentication mechanism will take quite a bit of planning and implementation time, but we have begun the process of moving to a completely different platform.
Of course, support infrastructure followed as well, as we no longer needed System Center and Windows-focused backup systems. And Windows-based file servers stopped making sense without Windows clients to support.
At the end of the day, what was so shocking was that the littlest thing, a concern over the efficiency and usability of Windows 8's new interface, triggered a series of discoveries that completely unraveled our Microsoft-centered ecosystem.
No single product was unloved or disliked. We were a team of dedicated Windows 7 desktop users on a wholly Microsoft infrastructure. We were happy with that decision and happy to be continuing to move more and more over to the Microsoft "way." But questioning the assumption that we wanted or needed to be using a Windows desktop ended up bringing down an infrastructural house of cards.
From an end user perspective, the move to Linux was effortless. We have done quite a bit of retraining and rethinking from the support side, of course. There is a lot to learn there, but that is IT's job - support the business and do what needs to be done to make them able to work most efficiently.
Does this bode of a dark future for Windows? Unlikely. But it does highlight that a significant misstep on the desktop platform could easily put Microsoft's market position on a downward spiral.
Microsoft depends on tight integration between their systems to create their value proposition. Losing the desktop component of that integration can quickly undermine the remaining pieces. To be sure, ours is a special case scenario: a small firm with extensive UNIX skills already existing in house, an ambitious and forward-thinking management team and the agility to make broad changes. But just because we lie on the extreme edge does not mean that our story is not an important one.
For some, Windows 8 might not only represent the tipping point in the Windows desktop value proposition but the tipping point in the Microsoft ecosystem itself.