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Why Migrate to Linux?

Why Migrate to Linux?

One of the most important aspects of Linux is the huge community of developers working on it. This incredible development force is made possible by the concept of open source, or free software, which allows thousands of highly skilled developers throughout the world to create and build software quickly and efficiently.

As a result, Linux has quickly become one of the most promising operating systems available. Not only has Linux proven its superiority in the server field as a robust and efficient system, it has also greatly matured as a full-featured desktop alternative. So why are more and more users - individuals and corporations - using these strange free software products instead of traditional equivalents from the proprietary world?

First of all, Linux is valued as a high-performance operating system due to its modular nature - entire portions of the operating system can be easily added or removed to greatly affect performance. Additionally, Linux now supports most PC hardware devices, including even the "latest and greatest" products. Linux's extensive range of features has increased dramatically over the past few years. Linux is certainly not a computer hobbyist's plaything anymore; it's becoming more and more difficult to find areas that it cannot handle. Finally, the commercial offerings based around Linux have dramatically improved, including certification, training, support, and deployment of complex solutions.

Another key advantage of Linux is that it includes only open technologies based on public standards (when available). This means that Linux is always a smart choice because the included technology is very likely to already be a standard in the IT world - technology that is compatible and interoperable with other operating systems. With Linux, you will never become a prisoner of technology as often happens in the Windows and Macintosh worlds.

For example, with Linux it's very easy to communicate over a network with just about any other computer platform, with various protocols, such as for exchanging data files. Even in the office productivity field Linux is rapidly gaining superiority with its OpenOffice and KOffice office suites, which understand a number of different office file formats, including MS Office documents.

On the other hand, the way that Linux and its applications are developed and produced ensures that it's very perennial because in the free software world, even if a software project is abandoned by its original authors, there is always someone, or even a new team of developers, willing to maintain and release new versions of the software.

Another distinctive advantage of Linux and free software applications, maybe the most important, is that software is designed and created for users by users. In the traditional software industry, new features are introduced by a software company solely because the company thinks it will be a good idea, perhaps as the result of a marketing survey. In the Linux world, the approach is totally different: users request new features and free software developers implement them. The resulting products and features answer real needs, which is really the purpose of designing and building software in the first place.

In other words, in the Linux world, software makers don't decide what the users need. Users decide.

Not Just an Operating System
Linux is widely regarded as an operating system - specialized software that can run various hardware devices attached to a PC, with an interface so the user can take advantage of those peripherals. But with Linux, you not only receive a basic operating system. A full Linux system is usually offered as a "Linux distribution," such as Mandrake Linux, on a number of CD-ROMs that include a wide assortment of many of the best applications available for the operating system.

This comprehensive collection of software is selected, tested, and integrated into the Linux distribution by Linux vendors; the result is a fully customizable multipurpose IT system.

So what does this mean to a computer user? Normally, after installing a traditional operating system on a computer, you can do...well, not much, really. You can use some simple utilities, play a few games that come with the system, and, on recent systems, connect to the Net and browse the Web. But if you plan to do something really useful for your business or for your personal needs, you'll first have to locate and purchase all the software packages needed for each task.

Now take a look at a modern Linux system. Not only are you provided with a comprehensive collection of Internet utilities such as Web browsers, graphical FTP clients, e-mail readers, chat programs, and so on, but the system also includes just about everything you'll ever need for office tasks, such as a complete office suite, calendar applications, project managers, finance applications, and much more.

Do you need to modify and create graphics? No problem! You've also got a first-class, full-featured image manipulation program plus a 3-D modeler. Need to burn CD-Rs or DVD-Rs? Easy-to-use graphical applications for these tasks and more are also included.

Linux also excels in the server area: all of the most common and powerful Internet services are yours. Run your own DNS server, file and print server, and FTP server. Not enough? Then run your own Internet Web server, e-mail server, a SQL database, and so on. It's all in there. These are not small basic applications, but "real deal" applications that power most Internet Web sites and related services.

Last but not least: What is the cost of development tools under Windows? Often very expensive. But extremely powerful development tools - including various programming and scripting languages, toolkits, and integrated development environments - are all standard in a Linux distribution. And of course, all the related documentation is provided, often in a number of different languages.

Yes, all this and much more is included in a $60 Linux pack. As a result, comparing the price of Linux with Windows doesn't make much sense unless you consider the price of all the extra applications that you will need with Windows and other operating systems.

Migrating to Linux: Why and How
More and more companies are migrating parts or all of their infrastructure to Linux. They need a system that is more efficient, more flexible, more open, more robust, and more customizable. In these challenging economic times, businesses also need to reduce their total cost of ownership. Linux is certainly the best solution for all of the reasons stated above, and more.

At the same time, it's important to consider what exactly can be migrated in a corporate environment. The existing network infrastructure benefits greatly after being migrated to Linux. Authentication and security services, DHCP servers, print servers, Internet gateways - all of these can be switched safely and easily.

Additionally, intranet and Internet servers such as Web servers and database servers will benefit greatly from a migration that results in added stability, fewer bugs, and extended uptime.

As for migrating desktops to Linux, this is a new area that needs to be addressed more carefully because experience in this field has not been as extensive as in the server area. Linux is certainly mature enough to replace Windows efficiently and safely on the desktop, but resistance can arise from users who will need to learn something slightly different from what they're used to. Fortunately, the jump is much less dramatic than it was when switching from MS-DOS to Windows, or even from Mac OS to Windows!

In the desktop area, it's important to think about which applications must run on the workstations, because it's not yet possible to find a Linux equivalent for each and every Windows application. Nevertheless, solutions do exist to resolve these issues, including emulators for Windows applications or using a dual-boot method. Emulation software can be used to run a complete Windows system under Linux or for running individual Windows applications. The dual-boot method allows users to have Linux and Windows installed on the same machine, but the PC must be rebooted to switch between operating systems, which requires added time.

Before migrating to Linux, it's also important to list all of your computer hardware and make sure it's supported. Unsupported hardware is becoming less common under Linux, but it does still happen, especially in specialized areas such as professional sound production.

It's often easier to migrate to Linux in several steps. One technique is to begin with the network infrastructure, then the servers, and finally the desktops. In all cases, it's important to ensure that a good level of knowledge is available within the company, especially if the information system teams are deeply rooted with Microsoft proprietary technologies. Getting in touch with a Linux service provider for support and assistance is also a good idea when considering a migration.

Migrating to Linux is certainly the best option for reducing the total cost of ownership of an information system because of suppression of most licensing costs and reduction of costs related to system administration - a Linux-based environment will need few administrators compared to other systems. It's also the best solution for increasing the efficiency and the stability of the whole infrastructure.

And the Winner Is...
For years analysts have been predicting that Linux would never gain on Windows, that Linux would rise and fall, that Linux is just hype. But very few of them (apart from "evangelists" in the Linux world) predicted that Linux and open source would continue to grow, first in the server area and now in the desktop area.

The reality is that many new companies and individuals continue to jump onto the Linux wagon every day. If it keeps going at this pace, you have to wonder: Which operating system will win in the end?

Although this question may sound a bit ridiculous, it's interesting to think about the "good enough software" concept. "Good enough software" refers to a product that is far from perfect but can do, more or less, what it's been designed for. With the consideration of other factors such as price, this good enough software often gains more success than equivalent or better software. For instance, MS-DOS was chosen by IBM for its PCs in the early '80s over other alternatives not because it was the best available operating system, but because it was the cheapest. On the other hand, in the early '90s the NextStep operating system was considered to be one of the best modern operating systems available, but it died prematurely because it was too expensive.

So is Linux good enough to win the OS war? Absolutely, if you consider only its price. But Linux is, without a doubt, much better than "good enough"!

More Stories By Gael Duval

Gael Duval has been a Linux activist since he discovered Linux in 1995. He released the first version of Mandrake Linux in summer 1998 with the goal of making Linux easier to use. He cofounded MandrakeSoft in late 1998 and is currently the director of communication at MandrakeSoft, among other tasks.

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