Migrating to Linux From Windows Makes for Good Business

By Jack M. Germain

Do you know that you can use Linux as a free replacement for Microsoft’s Windows operating system? That idea often confuses small business owners and enterprises. When it comes to cloud computing tactics, the Linux operating system can be a solid fit.

For personal use, you will never pay a purchase price for Linux. Even the applications that run on Linux are completely free. For businesses that want or need specialized help, only the tech support they contract has a fee. You are probably already paying much more cash for Windows IT support.

Switching to the Linux OS does not require replacing your hardware, either. One of the great benefits of running Linux is that you can select a specific Linux distribution — “distro” in Linux speak — designed for the kind of computing you need.

The Linux OS comes in varieties that are lightweight yet still powerful for aging hardware. You can also pick a more heavy-weight distro designed with lots of business-grade features. Either way, Linux outperforms Windows on all of your hardware.

Migrating to the Linux OS is not such a drastic (or risky) step as many individual sysadmins and small-business owners fear. Some make the move for cost efficiency. Others make the operating system change to get greater flexibility that open-source software provides. Whatever the motivation, Linux’s advantages supercede misguided “fear.”

Whether you are already in the cloud or still pondering the move, the Linux OS is a sensible and powerful computing platform. Linux runs much of the underbelly of cloud operations. Even Microsoft has shifted its focus to making its software play nicely with Linux.

For most home office/small business use, deciding to leave Microsoft Windows behind comes down to figuring out two things: the cost of not migrating and whether to deploy Linux entirely or gradually throughout the office infrastructure.

Success Story

Ethan T. Schmidt, chief technology officer at GymBull.com, uses Linux exclusively on all his company’s computers. He installed the Ubuntu 16.04 Xenial distro about eight months ago and never looked back. Nor did his fewer-than-25 permanent staff. He chose that Linux distro release simply because it was the most recent Ubuntu iteration with long-term support (LTS).

“Since we are a medium-sized technology company, we have saved thousands of dollars in not supporting Windows/other MS Office applications for overhead activities such as financial tracking and basic office work,” he said.

Schmidt did admit to some initial apprehension from his non-developer staff about leaving Windows behind. He attributes that worker worry to the false perception of what he called “voodoo” that is associated with Linux. But for many, the transition was almost transparent.

“The Ubuntu interface of today is virtually the same as what many non-tech folks are used to dealing with in Windows. It also helps that we have a deep knowledge base of Linux troubleshooters to help out anyone who needs it,” he said.

Learning Linux

Using Linux today is no more challenging than switching from one type of smartphone platform to another. If you currently use the Mac OS or Microsoft Windows, using Linux is just a matter of familiarizing yourself with new program names and user procedures.

“It is not that there is one glaring difference to Windows users who switch to Linux for non-dev related work. It is just that those who grew up using Windows/Mac for decades have certain rituals and ruts that they are accustomed to use,” offered Schmidt. “Like any other information system switch, an OS switch isn’t very different.”

Learning Linux is simply teaching new users that the OS has analogous aspects to Windows that they can discover. For instance, Ubuntu comes preloaded with many LibreOffice applications. Many are indistinguishable from Microsoft Office for most people, he said.

Many Linux programs are very similar to typical software tasks with Windows applications. Most open-source programs read and write in the same file formats as Microsoft Office Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint files. Many other proprietary/commercial software have file-saving features that let you export your data, so you can import it into compatible open-source formats.

“Additionally, since more and more of our work is stored in the cloud, much of the real basics are still the same from OS to OS,” noted Schmidt.

Dr. Tim Lynch of Psychsoftpc added that switching from Microsoft Windows to Linux is easy for most new users. Some people feel challenged by any change in technology, though.

“You get used to one way of doing things, and it is hard to change sometimes,” said Lynch.

Steps to Take

First, the primary worry migrators to Linux face is replacing Windows programs with Linux/open-source alternatives. So, one of the first things you should do is asses what software will replace your existing Windows platform apps.

Second, deploying a Linux desktop or server takes planning and resources. But that is what any business implementation takes. Approach this assessment diligently. Your planning will ensure that you avoid surprises and frustration later.

Schmidt recommended polling your staff to find out what software they use everyday. Then introduce them to the Linux counterparts. The GNU/Linux community is so robust that almost everything has been done before and figured out by someone far smarter than yourself, he said.

Software As a Service (SAAS) and cloud-based apps have done much of the heavy lifting to pave the way to moving away from Windows. Today, most people use their computers for a calendar or as a way to get to their internet browser. Then everything else is online, Schmidt added.

“As for devs in your company, if they do not already know their way around a Linux system and the CLI (Command Line Interface), they are behind the power curve. There are ample resources online to get learned up,” he concluded.

Third, remember that change and adjustments need time. Computer users need hands-on familiarity. That can happen all at once or at a trickle. That is where the planning and the staff training come into play.

One big advantage to learning to use Linux is the ease of downloading one or several distros and running them in live sessions from a USB/DVD drive or in a virtual machine on the same computer your workers use to run Microsoft Windows.

Since the Linux OS runs from the CD, no bootup changes have to be made to the hard drive. No files are touched on the hard drive. In essence, the hard drive does not exist, but you can access all your data on the hard drive if you choose.

Final Thoughts

You can learn about Linux by reading the informational postings on Linux-related websites. This is also a good starting point for your staff and office workers too.

Here are a few good starting points:

And here are a few good Linux primer guides from Linode:

Please feel free to share below any comments or insights about your experience with migrating to Linux from Windows — or not. And if you found this blog useful, consider sharing it through social media.

About the blogger: Jack M. Germain is a veteran IT journalist whose outstanding IT work can be found regularly in ECT New Network’s LinuxInsider, and other outlets like TechNewsDirectory. Jack’s reporting has spanned four decades and his breadth of It experience is unmatched. And while his views and reports are solely his and don’t necessarily reflect those of Linode, we are grateful for his contributions. He can be followed on Google+.

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