Migrating a Small Business To Linux

Whether migrating to Linux is advisable depends on a given business’s priorities.
Posted September 7, 2010

Matt Hartley

Matt Hartley

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In a tight economy, it's more important than ever to make sure every dollar spent is providing maximum return. And for a growing number of small businesses, this means reexamining plans for upgrading existing servers and workstations.

For many small businesses, this translates into more of the same. Renewing expensive licenses, buying newer computer towers and of course, in some instances, installing updates to legacy Windows software.

Cost in a value-based economy

What is the value proposition in getting a small business to make the switch to Linux?

Not able to offer a clear answer?

Then consider this as one possibility – control. Offering small businesses control over their own technology is something that most managers are unaware is even needed. After all, something breaks, they call whomever handles repairs, the problem is fixed.

And of course, the attached invoice for that effort is then paid. But what if there was an easier way? What if that same business owner who just paid the rather expensive invoice could find a way to eliminate many of these repair problems from occurring in the first place? Bingo -- now you have your value proposition.

In a really lousy economy, the IT firm that can promise that a small business will be free of malware and Windows viruses, without needing to relicense anti-malware measures every year, is going to be very attractive to a cost cutting small business. Being able to deliver value for a larger one-time cost, and then support that value at a lesser cost over time, would indeed be highly attractive to small business owners everywhere.

Yet despite this promised value, delivering on such claims means overcoming specific hurdles that might be easier to overlook when working with a computer hobbyist. After all, today's small businesses need their technology to work as expected, without excuses and without any show-stopping issues.

Software subtleties

A few years back, I helped a small bookstore switch over to Linux. Something I ran into during the course of this small migration effort was the concern over losing access to those famed proprietary applications such as Microsoft Office, Quicken and believe it or not, Photoshop.

In each case here, there are viable software alternatives, depending on the needs of the small business. However, even putting aside the learning curve, people prefer what is familiar to them.

In my case, I was lucky enough to avoid these issues through some creative retooling, but others may not be so lucky. What can these individuals do? Look at the situation as follows, small business owners need their computers to perform specific tasks. If what the Linux/open source world is offering simply won't cut it for their needs, then clearly alternatives must be sought out.

Put simply, if there are multiple workstations in use, make as many of them as possible run Linux so the business can enjoy the benefits of the platform. If there must be one workstation using Windows for some reason, so be it. The fact that there is now a mixed environment is still more valuable than one without Linux being used at all.

In my experience, asking small businesses to use "virtual machine solutions" with Windows, which means accessing legacy Windows software from inside this environment, is met with a resounding "no." For these individuals, either it runs well out of the box or not at all. This is something that most people need to realize early on if they plan on helping migrate a small business over to a desktop Linux solution.

This is not to say that a server solution couldn't be implemented, then move toward the thin client route. But we need to remember the core point of this article – keeping things cheap and affordable.

Perplexing peripherals

Assuming a happy medium can be reached on the software front, another unavoidable challenge that must be met head on is ensuring that all peripherals used with any given small business are Linux friendly.

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Tags: open source, Linux, SMB, Linux desktop, Linux downloads

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