law firm finds dropping Windows easier than expected
Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business
Business in Vancouver October 23-29,
2007; issue 939
High Tech Office column
recent High Tech Office columns recently looked at alternatives to
Microsoft’s widely used Office applications suite. There’s also
increasing interest in replacing Microsoft Windows operating system,
particularly with the slower-than-expected adoption of the company’s
One alternative, Apple’s Macintosh, requires
replacing all your computer hardware with models from a single
supplier: Apple – something that makes many businesses uncomfortable.
Instead, local law firm Whitelaw Twining looked at Linux, the open
source operating system that runs on standard PC hardware, after
Windows-based virus infestations cost the company “tens of thousands of
dollars per hour.”
Linux comes in a sometimes confusing range of
“distributions” from a wide range of sources; many are free, others are
not, but include technical support.
After examining several,
Whitelaw Twining went with Novell’s SuSe Linux Enterprise Desktop
(SLED). According to IT manager Richard Giroux, Novell’s name and long
history helped sell his firm’s directors on the choice. The company was
already using Novell’s border manager network security software.
other distributions (and unlike Windows), a SLED installation includes
a huge range of applications. Novell tweaks SLED for a business
setting. And unlike many other Linux variants, SLED is multimedia-ready
with a minimum of tweaking, something that was important to the firm’s
Whitelaw Twining rolled out SLED in two waves to
accompany hardware upgrades. Now about 50 workstations are Linux-based.
That represents nearly all of the firm’s desktop computers.
was surprised at how little training Whitelaw’s staff – ranging from
clerical staff to senior directors – needed. He prepared a single-page
handout pointing out changes like the blue and red Firefox icon the
blue “e” icon (for Windows’ Internet Explorer web browser) and
demonstrated SLED features that have no Windows equivalents, such as
the “Cube,” an attractive 3D effect to move among multiple desktops.
company hasn’t entirely cut the cord to Windows. Users have access (via
Citrix terminal services) to Microsoft Office applications running on a
Some users continue to use Windows-based voice dictation
software; through SLED’s use of WINE technology they can run it without
The firm’s laptops are still Windows-based, at least for now. Attorneys
using them have asked when they’ll be getting the Cube.
notes that Linux has evolved quickly over the past few years. He says
that “if you’ve had a Linux experience even two years ago, it’s now a
whole new ball game.”
Giroux especially likes that once set up, these systems “run and run
and run. For the most part, Linux just works.”
viruses and spyware, an ever-present problem on Windows-based systems,
aren’t an issue for Linux users. Whitelaw Twining’s new PCs all came
with Windows XP or Vista pre-installed. Installing SLED still leaves
the option of booting to Windows. But according to Giroux, no one ever
While Linux now runs a respectable proportion of network
servers, its growth on users’ desktops has been much slower. Linux has
a reputation of being too complex for the average user. Whitelaw
Twining’s experience suggests it might be time to take another look.
Linux distributions offer downloadable “live CDs” that let users try
out Linux by booting to the CD without having to install anything on
their hard drives. And Vancouver computer recycler Free Geek
holds a regular Windowless Wednesday clinic
every Wednesday evening, which they describe as “a night of
skill-sharing, problem-solving, and education.” •