What are the right questions to ask?

Mike Lovell toelovell at gmail.com
Thu Jan 17 18:18:51 MST 2008

Grant Robinson wrote:
> The biggest hurdles you are going to have to overcome are not
> necessarily technical, but social/mental.  Re-training is one
> example.  Most non-technical people I know only really care about
> getting their stuff done, and they learn how to use the applications
> they are given to accomplish that task.  Switching an accountant who
> is a heavy Excel user (tons of macros and formulas) over to using
> OpenOffice would be a bit of a shock (last time I tried OpenOffice,
> there were still some differences in formulas and the available
> functions, and macros recorded in Excel wouldn't work at all, don't
> know if that has changed or not).  Moving someone who uses a
> spreadsheet with embedded Visual Basic would be even harder.  Have
> these people ever used OpenOffice?  Would they be comfortable
> switching?  How much time would be lost in getting them up to speed in
> their new environment.  There are certainly technical challenges as
> well.  Someone who uses an IE-only website for 75% of their work
> probably isn't a good candidate to move to Linux or some other
> non-Windows variant.  If the same application they are used to isn't
> available on the target platform, then you are going to have to either
> run it in emulation or find an alternative and deal with re-training. 
> What are they using for accounting software?  Quickbooks or the like? 
> What is the feasibility of migrating that data?  How do they manage
> their customers (CRM software, spreadsheet, custom application)?  Do
> they have a large investment in commercial software that they use all
> the time?  Is one of their employees a graphic artist or some such? 
> Do they produce any sort of marketing materials (flyers, posters,
> etc), and if so, what do they use to produce them?  These questions
> and many, many more all need to be asked before you can really gauge
> the feasibility of what you are proposing.  They can all be overcome,
> but it requires time or money or both, and it could be quite
> substantial in both areas.
> Now, switching a single individual over to Linux (particularly at
> home) is different than moving an entire small/medium/large business
> to Linux.  If you don't know how to do something at home, you may be
> out a couple of evenings while you tinker and become accustomed to
> your new OS.  If that same thing happens to an entire office for
> several days or weeks, it's not just a few movies or story time with
> your kids that you will miss, but the business could potentially lose
> a lot of money.
> Not sure if that helped, but I would be wary of thinking that because
> two unique people you know who are 10 and 70 are comfortable with
> Linux that an office of people who are probably non-technical will be
> as enthusiastic about having what is comfortable taken away and
> replaced with something quite foreign.
Definitely something that should happen in trying to transition people
from windows to Linux is to go through all of the apps and see if you
can get them to work or get an equivalent able to work with their data.
If you decide to transition users to linux, try one person in the office
first and see how they are able to deal with everyday tasks in the new
OS. You might even try a few different distributions. Ubuntu is
definitely a good choice for new users. Personally, I am more of an
openSuSE fan. It is still user friendly. I have been able to install
without opening a command prompt before. Many others on the list will
probably disagree with me on that. But your mileage will vary.

I am going to preface this by stating that this shouldn't be taken as me
being anti-linux or, heaven forbid, pro-microsoft.
A question that should come up during this process is "Can we instruct
our employee how to use windows more securely and secure our existing
infrastructure?" Making the jump to linux for a small business can mean
quite a bit of lost productivity and small business often cannot afford
to lose that much because resources are tight as is. If used properly,
windows can be relatively safe. (Note the relatively). By enforcing
employees to use Firefox instead of IE for regular browsing or moving
people from Outlook to a different email client, or webmail, might help
a lot in preventing problems and is simple to do. Turning off unused
windows services and disabling the "administrative" file shares will
prevent viruses from spreading through smb. Use passwords on all
accounts. Etc, etc. Also, taking some time to train people on simple
security measures (like "just because it looks like a windows box
telling you have spyware means you need to click on it") can go a long
way. It will also help keep people sane because they don't have to
relearn stuff.

I'm not saying that you should abandon your idea of transitioning the
business to Linux. Linux is a great OS and has some advantages. But it
will take some re-learning from employees who might be reluctant to
change. Moving servers to Linux will pretty much always be the best choice.

Anyways, enough of my opinions. Let the flame war begin for someone on a
linux mailing list even suggesting that people stay on windows.....

P.s. People still use McAfee? In my opinion, that might be half of the
problem. Change anti-virus/spyware/malware application.

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