Migrating to Linux in the Enterprise Using Vendor-independent Formats: Page 2

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With open standards comes choice. Change becomes easier. Suddenly, barriers that once hindered and hurt one's mobility are no longer there. An enterprise that planned or endlessly procrastinated a migration to Free software, for instance, suddenly finds that its exit costs -- the costs that are associated with escaping lock-in -- are lowered significantly. Once lock-in is left behind, it no longer needs to be coped with ever again. It is a one-time investment in liberation of vital data.

The great attraction of an open standard is related to its ability to open doors to better, less expensive, and better-supported software. It is a strategy shift. Enterprises must realize that their new identity – in which they are no longer dependent on a single supplier – comes through standards. Blaming the inability of an application to mimic the behavior of another is a classic case of an enterprise adopting the wrong route for its migration. It clings on to the past (legacy) rather than looking into a future where truly open and free standards are increasingly being accepted.

The attraction of open standards is at this point greater than ever. There is a meeting of the minds coming up and there is a crossroad to be reached. Microsoft Office 2007 comes to a larger market, and the ISO will vote in favor or against the format that accompanies Office 2007. It is known as Office OpenXML. Its proponents boast of its size and function while opponents protest strongly, using the argument that it is inelegant and too tightly coupled with operating systems and a single application. A major standards group is about to meet and discuss this soon, so perhaps so should you.

There remains a conflict of intrests and desire, in which unified formats are thought to be replaceable by compatibility layers that enable access to data that is stored in proprietary formats. In the case of Linux, some judge its readiness by its ability to simulate non-Linux applications (or sometimes virtualize them). This very well exemplifies the misconception about the value of a single standard which is here to stay. Choice of applications, digital preservation, backward compatibility, and sometimes full access to application source code are among the many benefits.

Admittedly, this way of thinking rarely seems to be natural to everyone. It is a paradigm-related and conceptual issue where specifications are confused with code, applications are confused with formats, and standards are taken for granted (or not taken at all). If you foresee your business, or your family, or your friend moving to Linux in years to come, the first step you ought to take is appreciate vendor-independent formats such as OpenDocument. Many companies and even governments are supporting and embracing OpenDocument format. The OpenDocument Alliance, which is an independent body, maintains a partial yet extensive list of its backers. Some are actively promoting OpenDocument while some passively accept or usher its arrival.

The next stage of a migration process should typically involve taking the existing data in a format that is recognised by the same application on different platforms or by different applications that understand (and thus perfectly interpret/parse) the data. This data can then be moved across partitions, across computers, or across operating systems. This is the stage where migrations to Linux can become seamless.

Migrations between platform -- whether to Linux, or to any other platform for that matter -- should always boil down to the information level, not the application level. Remember that a platform can support multiple applications that achieve the same thing. In turn, each application supports a set of formats, but ideally just one that is universal. Identify that universal format and make the first step towards choice of both an operating system and an application. Your data is your bread and butter. Do not give it away and do not invest in proprietary or mysterious keys that unlock this data, especially if these are keys you can never truly own or control.

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