Should you migrate from Windows to Linux or MacIntosh systems?

Should you migrate from Windows to Linux or MacIntosh systems?

This is a hard question to answer because it depends on why you are using Windows. If it is mainly for the following reasons:

  • Email
  • Web Based Applications
  • Word Processing
  • Spread Sheet Manipulation
  • Local Database Management
  • Presentation Creation

Then it really doesn't make much difference which Operating System you are running, since all of these needs can be met by software on all of the platforms. In many cases, there are free software applications that have been designed to run on most Operating Systems to provide these services (you could start using these right now under Windows if you wanted to, instead of the Microsoft specific products), with compatibility with the Microsoft equivalent products (as of June 2003 - Microsoft will probably be releasing new and incompatible products soon - its one way they force people to buy their upgrades, not by adding new and useful features, but rather make things harder to work with).

Many office environments could switch if they wanted to, but there is often a few applications that will not make the transition. You have a few options there. The first is to ask the software vendor of these applications if they support Linux or Macintosh systems, and if they say no, ask them when they will. If the software vendors see a market outside of the Windows platform, they might write their applications to support it. Many companies, tired of the licensing issues that Windows is working towards (not to mention the huge cost of upgrading hardware to work with the newer versions of Windows products, where the existing 'old' system will run with no problems under Linux). If the vendors don't know that you are considering a switch over, they will not know what their customers are planning for.

If your main applications are behind a firewall and Web Based, you should be able to use any modern web browser to run them on. If the applications require Internet Explorer, you might want to find out why they were not built with compatibility in mind - in some cases its poor Web design, in others, they simple utilize some non-standard features that may need to be redesigned to work. Making a Web Application generally access able using Web Standards is a good idea in the first place, since its fair to assume that your interface methods could change in the future and standards will be supported while proprietary solutions will simply lock you into a potentially more expensive, or limited solution.

How to Plan for a Change

This can be a traumatic experience for many people. There are many ways to get this to work, but the biggest key is likely to involve working make sure the 'new environment' would give people a look and feel that they were used to. This is not as hard as it seems. There is nothing remarkable about the Microsoft Windows environment, other than people are used to it. Linux and Macintosh systems look and work much the same way, and anyone who has used a Word Processor on one will not find much different on the other.

First off, lets look at a couple of free products that handle common tasks. We will only consider cross-platform products that work on Windows, Linux/Unix and Macintosh systems. You could start using these at any time to start your migration effort, and start saving licensing costs on anything not provided as a part of the Operating System.

If you want Instant messaging, go to and get a copy of AOL instant Mess anger for your Operating System (its been available and working for years for both Linux and Macintosh environments - working pretty much the same as it does under Windows, with only a few less features). I've used AOL Instant Messenger for years switching between Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Linux, Solaris and OS X and I've always been able to use it the same way I do everywhere else. Don't use a proprietary solution; communication is important between people - locking out parts of your staff is not a good thing.

If possible, do your migrations in small steps - one group or department at a time. It will take a while to get used to the different Icons on the screen and to break old process habits. It seems scary to make this sort of change, however, the change from Windows 98/Windows 2000 to Windows XP is almost as daunting (a lot changed), and your workers will be struggling to make sense out of their new environment even in a Microsoft Operating System upgrade.

Printing is different under Linux than Windows. Someone needs to resolve these issues so that people can continue to share resources as they are accustomed to (Windows can happily co-exist with Linux and Macintosh on any network). Going in smaller steps allows this to be resolved.

Validate your systems - Spend 30 days working with selected end users to test the system, and then another 30 days (or more) to migrate the rest of the company's desktops.

As far as cutting down on IT administration and cutting out the cost of a vendor holding you hostage over their licensing plans, this change can be very cost effective. There can be problems if you move too fast. In an era when IT departments are underbudgeted and understaffed, undertaking a switch -- especially in a large organization, fast changes may involve too much risk and cost.

Successful major deployments of Linux desktops are being made through companies like IBM, which has put a lot of resources behind Linux and would be able to offer reliable services and support packages to organizations. IBM is removing some of the risk factors that have many IT departments putting off the question of whether or not to remove Windows from the desktop. Once the fear is gone, who knows how far Linux can go?

Macintosh systems are just as capable as Windows - if you like them, why not use them?

There are often few business reasons to remain on an Operating System unless you cannot do your work without it - Find out what those reasons are before you decide that you can't make a switch. Its probable that some of your systems can make the change. Once you determine which ones can, then you can do a cost analysis. You may find that 90% of your staff can use a different solution; that may add up to significant license fee savings.

Cross Platform Applications

What to look for? Anything written in Java will probably run on any Operating System that your business uses. Java is available on large IBM Mainframes all the way down to some Cellular phones. Java is available for Windows, Linux and Macintosh systems, and there is no charge for the core language (Sun at Java is very similar to C and supports many of the same concepts as C++ - if your programming staff has any experience in this area, they can adapt to Java pretty quickly. There are many 'free' examples of Java implementations/functions/solutions on the Internet, as well as many books on the topic.

If you are a Visual Basic programmer, and are used to building interfaces by dropping and dragging windows, buttons and functions, you'll be happy to know that similar tools exist for Java (it comes with a very nice multi-platform interface system called Swing) - Build it for Windows and it works the same for Linux and Macintosh. Here is one to look at - if you have ever tried to build Visual Basic applications as a group, you'll appreciate that Java does not force you to be connected to everything else anyone might be doing.

Many software vendors already support non-Windows platforms. You might be surprised to find that a migration is simpler than you thought.

Questions? Ask Jens. I am Operating System agnostic - what ever works well and fits the need is the right answer.