Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Can I finally free my company?

Well, I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I stumbled across possibly the best reason yet to move our entire company over to a fully FOSS solution (remember I'm only the Systems Admin/Programmer here).

The program that has given me so much hope is SeamlessRDP. This little tool allows me to run all our companies Windows-only applications on any Linux machine by streaming the application over the network. This means that the application acts just like another program on the users desktop - but in reality it is being run from a Windows server over the network.

For me, this is huge news.

Recently in a Directors meeting we discussed the pending need to start updating our systems because in 2014 Microsoft will end update support for Windows XP. The Directors didn't like this because we have around 50 computers and laptops and the upgrade costs for our company would be a huge hit on our resources.

Given this situation, I gave them a short presentation on the state of Open Source solutions and what it can offer us. I discussed program compatibility (we use OpenOffice extensively already) and thanks to the discovery of SeamlessRDP, I was able to give a clear solution to the problem of Windows applications that we can't do without (at the moment).

To my utter surprise, they were very receptive of my ideas and said that they would be very willing to move to a full FOSS solution if it could free them from the Microsoft money treadmill. They were also very impressed with KDE 4.2. I use KDE4 at work 24/7 and they were all very impressed with its usability, prettiness and great programs. A number of the staff have asked why they're "not allowed to have it" yet.

So, that's it! The move will need to start happening by 2011 at the latest (in the form of pilot programs), and I will be giving an extended feasibility and risk analysis report to the directors on Free and Open Source software.

If that all goes well, we'll be using free desktops, laptops and servers by 2013. I know that the number 2013 seems far off, but in the business world, and for me (considering the current workload I have) that is really JUST around the corner.

I'm excited. Cautious, but excited.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Netbooks: Missing the bleeding obvious

I'm seeing quite a few articles about how Linux netbooks are losing more ground to Windows netbooks. Phrases are tossed around like, "not ready for prime time" and "users snub Linux netbooks".

This is starting to get to me. Not because I'm a "Linux nut" but because I think its misleading.

I live in Australia, and I've witnessed first hand how Linux has lost turf to Windows in this market. For me, it stems from two main issues.

Issue number 1: Microsoft woke up.

Yeah thats right. This isn't a conspiracy theory - its plain facts: Microsoft realised the threat and moved quickly to stem the flow.

I saw it go from being Linux netbooks on shelves to being PURELY Windows netbooks on shelves in the space of one week. Honestly, I suddenly couldn't even FIND the Linux netbooks anywhere in the stores that used to ship them. And I'm telling you, it wasn't because people weren't buying them - please realise that these same Linux netbooks actually caused the explosion of sales in the first place.

It comes down to this - Microsoft went into damage control. They pulled up their sleeves and started "offering incentives" for the stores to take the Linux netbooks off the shelves.

Really, I saw it happen - we went from choice to no choice in a matter of days. It wasn't because Linux wasn't offering a compelling solution - it was because Microsoft moved to kill it before it caught on. Think about it, if Microsoft thought that Linux on netbooks wouldn't sell well, then why did they extend the life of the now ancient XP just so they could get a place on them. Surely, if Microsoft didn't think Linux on netbooks was a threat then they would have just waited 'till they'd released a solid Windows 7.

But no, they knew it was a threat. And they killed it. The market didn't choose. Microsoft made their choice easy. Yeah, thats right - they removed the other choice.

Seriously, the average buyer doesn't think too much about it - they walk into the store, look at the product, ask if it can do XYZ (which all these Linux laptops can do) and then buy it. They don't even think that it says "Windows" - heck, the eePC even LOOKED like Windows.

I'm sure some of you are thinking that what I'm saying is a bit far fetched. I'd encourage you to visit the site http://boycottnovell.com/ and read a bit about how Microsoft has been behaving. Please note that they are official documents from court hearings in Microsoft anti-trust cases (ie. ITS REAL). Unless you've read about this, and I mean -properly-, then I would encourage you to NOT post your Microsoft Fanboy Shrill comments.

Issue number 2: Corporate branding killed the Linux star.

I'm sure you've noticed that there isn't just one netbook going around - the market is veritably flooded with them now. The next thing you'll notice is that almost every different netbook is running a different breed of Linux distro.

Now I'm not against choice, but what is happening here is that these companies are so consumed by their desire to "make something unique" and "stand out from the pack" that they've shot themselves in the foot.

Just look at the first generation eeePC's, perhaps even the new ones. They all run an ancient kernel and old software. I'm sure any one of you who has used Linux 5 years ago and who have also used Linux today would agree that we've come SO far that we can hardly recognise ourselves! And here these companies are pushing yesteryear onto us! I just consider that dumb.

One thing that they've failed to realise is that John Smith will want to plug his new camera into his eeePC or Aspire and have it download his photos. I'm telling you now, he'll have a better chance with that if he's using a NEW distro with the LATEST advances rather than his archaic 2.4.x kernel! That goes for all kinds of devices the average user will want to plug in. What were these companies thinking??

Anyway, I should wrap up my rant. I'd like to just stress that THE MAIN REASON for Linux not 'catching on' like we'd have hoped is not because of point 2, but rather, point 1.

It really does come down to how Microsoft has played this. Microsoft didn't allow the consumer to choose. Really, how could they? They knew Linux was a threat, they KNOW its "ready" (however you define that) and they are willing to bend over backwards to keep the average Joe from getting used to it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Odd, but cool

An Australian company called Kogan (www.kogan.com.au) is preparing to launch its own netbook into the market.

These devices will come shipped with the Ubuntu based gOS. Its good to see that they're not dictated by Microsoft here.

The thing that caught my eye though, was that they said they had also tested other systems on their laptop and were offering to install them if the user wanted. One of the things they listed was KDE4 - amongst all the other Operating Systems they were mentioning. Odd, but hey - they must think its cool!

KDE4 is mentioned at the bottom of this article: Australia's Cheapest Netbook

The specs of the laptop are actually pretty good. The only thing I would say is that they're using a regular HDD, not SSD.

All things considered, its good to see a company of Kogan's size actively push Open Source (and particlarly, KDE4!) into the public's eye. I would be interested to see how these netbooks perform in the real world.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reset Hard Drive Size

I've been helping my good friend through an issue where a newly purchased 150Gb hard drive is only showing 80Gb after using Norton Ghost to copy data from a dying 80Gb hard drive.

Even after formatting the entire drive, it still only showed up as 80Gb - even on other computers.

After doing some searching on the net we realised that the "Ultimate Boot CD" had a utility on it called HDAT2 that could reset the size of the hard drive to its original size.

The first question in HDAT2's online FAQ deals with resetting the size of your hard drive to its default using this utility.

Very useful if you ever get stuck like this!

On a side note, the BIOS on Dell's laptops are crippled! The only thing you can change in them is the boot sequence! Argh.

Friday, February 27, 2009

On Microsoft and Suing

Over at Ars Technica they've written an article titled "Microsoft suit over FAT patents could open OSS Pandora's Box" (http://lxer.com/module/newswire/ext_link.php?rid=116455).

They love their sensationalism over at Ars, that's for sure. Firstly, I don't believe there is a "Pandora's Box" to begin with. Microsoft would love us to think there was though.

This is all about Microsoft loosing out. They know there is a threat to their profits from Free and Open Source Software, so they try and discourage companies and businesses pursuing it by creating this overwhelming FUD aura around it.

No doubt, if Microsoft win this I see two things happening:

1) them using this win as 'proof' that Linux is dangerous and illegal. And that Microsoft themselves will possibly pursue you if you utilise it.

2) them using this as a testing ground against IBM. These two companies are at a stand-off with their respective patent portfolios and if Microsoft can win in one court against Linux then they can take this and bolster their attack on the big one, IBM. I wouldn't be surprised if IBM was very interested in this case.

Either way, its completely safe to use Linux. Microsoft is coming under increasingly intense scrutiny (especially from the EU) over its use of their market position and business tactics.

Give it 10 years and Microsoft will be another IBM, still big, but not dominant any more.

The frustration is mounting

Sometimes there is nothing you can do. Sometimes people, no matter how blatant the facts are, are incapable of change. Today is one of those days.

I would consider myself well acquainted with Open Source and knowing what it can and can't do, I have been able to replace some of the proprietary applications that we use with free software. That means no licensing costs, free upgrades and feature parity with proprietary counterparts.

Here's a few issues that are having me retreat to the bathroom to contain myself from bursting out in utter frustration at the stubbornness of the humans around me:

1. Firefox:

We all know that this browser is perfectly capable of holding its own against IE. Not many dispute that. Especially for our company, none of the sites we frequent or need are incompatible in any way with Firefox. And you know what? Firefox is so much quicker at rendering the pages than IE. I'm not just saying that - I manually install the OS on all the machines I manage to squeze the best out of them. ALL of them show, practically, that Firefox is quicker with websites than IE6 or IE7. If Firefox was slower, I wouldn't be using it. I'm not a die hard.

Nevertheless, I have people ringing me up asking for IE to be installed. Or even digging through Program Files so they can add the IE icon back onto the desktop.


Well, I've asked. I ask all of them. Their answer is simple: "Uhhhh, uhh, dunno. It works better - I think.". So I ask them, "What issues are you having with Firefox?". They answer, "Uhh, none. Dunno, its all fine. Its just I need Microsoft's stuff. It works better.".

At this point I normally either spew all over my desk, or I politely take the time to explain to them why they're wrong, and why I won't help them unless Firefox is actually causing them angst.

2. OpenOffice:

About 56% of our office now uses OpenOffice for all their documents. Unfortunately we don't use ODF for everything yet, but we do use it for many things already (brochures, statistics, letter drops, etc). It works and behaves well.

I understand that OpenOffice doesn't do everthing though, especially when it comes to charts (get your act together guys). So we use Excel for a lot of our charting purposes. Excel makes prettier charts - you can't dispute that. So, if any of our users are having issues when using OpenOffice that can't be resolved because of software limitations then I ditch it for Microsoft Office - for the sake of productivity.

The killer for me today was this: I installed OpenOffice on one of our staff's new laptops (saved him $300 over buying MS Office). I assured him that he could always buy MS Office if OpenOffice wasn't cutting it. He was aprehensive - I think mostly because he didn't want to have to relearn anything. Fair enough. I told him it works practically the same (these guys aren't pro users - they just type - maybe use bold and underline).

Anyway, today he came to me. He had found this amazing solution! He realised that he had a really old laptop at home with an unused copy of MS 2000 on it. Great! Success! Now you can work! Becuase previously you couldn't with OpenOffice! Wait....

I asked him if he was having problems with OpenOffice or whether he was having trouble getting used to it. He proceded to tell me that everything was fine, there were no issues, and that he was doing everything he needed. Then he said this: "Well, I dunno. It just looks different. It isn't blue (the toolbars). Are the fonts different on OpenOffice or something? It just, uh, *looks* different.".

Perhaps this doesn't seem like an issue to you, casual reader. But to me, living through this stuff.......it makes me want to either curl up in a ball and cry all day, or explode into a fireball of righteous indignation and burn the offending Microsoft zombie hordes.

Despite what I wanted to do, I maintained my dignity and told him frankly that if he wasn't really having any issues and it wasn't slowing him down that he should just stick with it.

You know what? Come July 14th, Office 2000 extended support will end. At that point, I won't even let him use it.

Why, oh why? I don't understand why the human brain cannot get past the colour of the tool bars! Its like, "WOOW, my tool bar is a neutral grey! My head is going to explode! Where has the BOLD BUTTON GONE!! AAAAGGGH!!! Oh, wait, its where it always is. This stupid OpenOffice, it doesn't work properly!".

.........angry thoughts.

I will continue to politely help them get their jobs done quickly and effectively - even if that does mean installing MS Office on a couple of computers for the staff members who can't cope with the slightest change.

P.S. For those who would like to rail on me about how MS Office is the only way: This is the only guy to kick up a massive stink about OpenOffice. Everyone else is using it without issues, and have been - for years.