The desktop switch was easier than I thought it would be. I was running a dual boot MS Windows 98/2000 station. Stability was OK with my MS Windows desktop, but it was shut down almost every evening. I'd also reload all software every three months or so (Norton Ghost made that easy). Viruses were the biggest headache. I eventually ran into a snag with a piece of hardware and that is when I loaded Mandrake Linux.
The Mandrake Linux distribution came with KDE as its default GUI desktop. I liked it right away, although the fonts were functional, they weren't nearly as nice as Microsoft's. Later Linux distributions included better fonts, I've upgraded my Mandrake desktop to the latest version 9.1, and the fonts are beautiful. Although the KDE desktop is similar in function to a MS Windows desktop, there are many differences. There is no networking icon on the desktop and there isn't a my computer icon. Instead you have all the removable drives on the desktop and a home icon. You also have different icons in the menu bar, but all of this is totally customizable. If you want, you can mimic the MS Windows desktop look and feel very easily. There is one feature that MS Windows does not have, it is the virtual desktop. This essentially increases the desktop user space by a magnitude of four, and this number can be increased to sixteen. It is similar to having a multi-head display, except you switch displays with your hands not your eyes.
We chose Sun's StarOffice as my Microsoft Office replacement. StarOffice did a very good job with MS Documents and Excel spreadsheets. It had all the functions we used. The StarOffice suite interface is very similar to Microsoft's Office suite interface. The learning curve is minimal. I'd venture to say that the average user would need about 2 hours training to get up to speed with StarOffice. A power user may need more time, but a minimalist user would need less. Retraining time for the office suite cost my company approximately $40.00 per employee. A total of $280.00 in retraining costs for the most used software in my company. We've switched to OpenOffice.org now instead of Sun's StarOffice as they are basically the same package, with Sun's version having a proprietary database and assorted templates. Either of these packages work very well when dealing with a Microsoft Word or Excel file formats. PDF documents are handled by Xpdf, GhostScript or Adobe's Acrobat Reader v5.
For image manipulation, We use the Gimp or ImageMagick. I only do basic image manipulation, the Gimp is overkill for most of my uses. When I ran MS Windows, Photoshop was also more powerful than I needed, but the MS Image program was not powerful enough. Learning the interface basics, 1 hour.
Scanning is handled by XSane. XSane is excellent and uses a standard interface for all scanners as compared to the myriad of different interfaces that are written for the MS Windows environment. Learning the interface basics, 1 hour.
The Internet browsers that come bundled with Mandrake are Konqueror, Mozilla, Galeon, Opera Links(text) and Lynx(text). I mainly use Konqueror and Mozilla, although I do use Links now and then. Learning the interface basics, 5 minutes.
Mr Project takes care of project management, it is not compatible with MS Project but it is similar in design and performance. Learning the interface basics, 1 hour.
Flowcharting is handled by Kivio or Dia, both offer similar functionality to MS Visio but not compatible with the MS file format. Learning the interface basics, 1 hour.
I use the bundled KDE PIM functions, calendar (Korganizer), address book (Kaddress), email client (KMail) and replaced my paper sticky notes with Knote. If you like MS Outlook try Ximian's Evolution. Learning the interface basics, 30 minutes.
Open source instant messaging is way ahead. I use GAIM, it works with AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Jabber and several others. One client, many services. Learning the interface basics, 5 minutes.
Desktop publishing is handled by Scribus. Scribus v1.0 just came out and it is very good. This easily replaces MS Publisher, but is not compatible with the file format. Scribus isn't yet up to the same tasks as Quark Express, but it is an excellent package. I'm sure as it progresses it will offer everything all the "top" proprietary packages do. Learning the interface basics, 1 hour.
The Konqueror file manager is similar in function to MS Explorer. I prefer the functionality in Konqueror a bit more than MS Explorer, but this is totally user preference. Learning the interface basics, 5 minutes.
The reason I used learning the interface basics instead of retraining time is because every user has a different proficiency level at certain software packages. I believe being able to use the package for what it was meant for is all that is needed for retraining time. Others may argue that a user must know how to use all the tools of the package in order to be considered proficient. I am only worried about productivity.
All following prices are in US dollars.
Proprietary Total Desktop Proprietary Software Costs: $1000.00 Total Server Proprietary Software Cost: $4237.00 Desktop Software Microsoft Windows 2000/XP: $200.00 Microsoft Office SBE: $200.00 Microsoft Project: $250.00 Microsoft Visio: $100.00 Photoshop: $450.00 AOL Instant Messenger: Free Internet Explorer: Included with OS Server Software Windows 200x File and Print Server (10 user): $1199.00 Windows 200x Server & MS Exchange Server 2000 (10 user): $3038.00 Open Source Total Desktop and Server Open Source Software Costs: $69.00 Desktop Software Mandrake Linux Distribution (Includes everything below): $69.00 OpenOffice.org (Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw) Mr. Project KDE Kivio The Gimp Evolution (outlook clone) GAIM Konqueror Server Software Mandrake Linux with Samba & CUPS(Unlimited Users) OpenLDAP, PostFix & WebDAV
Our Accounting tasks are handled by Appgen's "My Books", a proprietary software package. It works with Microsoft Windows, Linux, Unix, and Macintosh. I use the $99.00 package which is comparable to Intuit's Quickbooks. Appgen is much more stable, and has amazing network performance.
There are literally thousands of packages in the Mandrake distribution. I've only listed a few. You can download Mandrake and most other distributions for free. For $70.00 you get a box, book and disc. RedHat offers a similar distribution for less than $100.00. SuSE also offers the same type of software at a comparable price. There are dozens of Linux distributions. If you want support, these companies offer it depending upon the package you purchase.
When using any *nix environment the resistance to viral threats is currently exceptional. I say currently, because who knows what virus writers can come up with in the future. The whole model of *nix is more secure than the current Microsoft Windows model. Unix/Linux, by default won't allow a user to enter vital system files, this is one of the reasons why viruses don't have the same effect in the *nix environment. MS Windows can be made secure to a point, but it was designed with users (and unfortunately viruses) having full access to the system files. Viruses have an easy time getting to the MS registry and corrupting the system.
If you are starting a business or already own a small business I suggest giving open source a try. The cost savings are incredible. Stability is exceptional. Compatibility is very good. You may choose to stay with the Microsoft Windows operating system, yet still save thousands by using open source software for the office suite, servers and image manipulation. If you choose to change the operating system to Linux or FreeBSD you will have increased stability, lower maintenance costs and excellent virus resistance.
The choice is ultimately yours, now that there is a choice!
About the Author:
My name is Alex Chejlyk. I own and operate a small business (10 years) that performs IT tasks for other small businesses in the area. I've been computing since the early 80's. I started out with CPM then to DOS, LANtastic, Windows 2.x, Apple, OS2, Windows 3.x, Be, Windows NT/9x/2K/Xp, Unix, and Linux.
- "Intro, Servers"
- "Desktop, Conclusion"