BACKSPIN: Linux loved, but rejected

BACKSPIN: Linux loved, but rejected

Why don’t I migrate to Linux? Let me count the ways,” began reader Tom Staight’s response when I asked, “Why aren’t you migrating to Linux?”. Of all the topics I’ve disem­boweled in the last year, the question of moving to Linux is the hottest. It seems almost all of you have a leaning toward Linux.

But Staight’s point is important. The existence of a constellation of issues, rather than one or two dominant ones, was cited by perhaps 80 per cent of those who wrote to me saying they aren’t migrating.

It seems that unless you are building a Web server farm or have specialised needs, Linux isn’t compelling yet. In general, you are trapped by your apps or by the enormous task of migration. It turns out there are galaxies of irreplaceable Windows-based apps to consider and armies of executives and workers who all make migration, at best, really difficult.

Reader Mick Toothaker wrote: “On the server we have already evaluated Linux ... [But] of the 40-odd servers I am responsible for, all of them are running some sort of server-based Win 32 application, or are Domain Controllers. One, count it, one, server is a good candidate for Linux.”

Functional and useful

Toothaker continued, “I am not some newbie who hates, fears or is otherwise ignorant of Linux. Nor am I some Microsoft flack, drone or zombie ... The fact that Microsoft is dominant in the industry [and] in my place of employment is not the best part of my job ... [but] it is a fact, one that I have to live with.”

Of course in some IT shops the availability and functionality of Windows apps makes Windows the preferred solution. Nathan McCourtney wrote: “I’ve got 20 servers to worry about and I don’t have time to learn the arcane and poorly designed system interfaces for a quadrillion different management apps, none of which do everything I need and none of which share anything close to a common design philosophy.”

He added: “Microsoft is just more functional and useful. They actually [GASP!] conduct usability studies to see if people can intuitively use their apps. I don’t recall any postings on SourceForge in that topic area.” And if there are, I’ll bet they say something like, “Users are dumb! They don’t DESERVE to run Linux!!”

But even when you find a place for Linux, there are often major organisational hurdles that are hard to clear, such as the lack of Linux skills.

“The company I work for is not moving to Linux as fast as they really should, and the reason is skill set,” another reader wrote. “Notwithstanding myself, everyone in the IT group is Microsoft-centric. I’m having a heck of a time trying to convince my boss to move application servers, Web servers and database servers to a system that only I have the expertise to support and maintain.

“From my manager’s point of view, the lack of widely available Linux admin expertise makes deploying Linux a risky undertaking. Until the number of admins having Linux expertise grows, I don’t see Linux going much further at our facility. Linux is an uphill battle I’m fighting all by myself.”

Pour more money

So let me sum up the major themes: It seems Windows-based programs such as Exchange and scores of business applications are a huge barrier to migration, while the lack of skills and weak integration and support for Windows-like services we depend on makes it difficult to switch. And on the desktop there are similar concerns: the scale of the change required, the affect on the organisation and requirement to retrain users.

I’m starting to think companies such as IBM and Sun Microsystems need to pour more money into building versions of Linux that meet these issues head on if they hope to ever make Windows an alternative rather than the best-fit solution. Unless that happens, Microsoft has us by the PCs for some time to come.

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