The issues with migration to Linux: A practical guide

 

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In this article, we explore the conditions on helping users migrate to Linux, motivations for migration as well as the reasons for resistance to migration. Finally, I provide some strategies to assist migration successfully with happy end-users. If you are a Linux administrator or a business owner who wants to cut cost by migrating to Linux, you will find this article useful.

1) Recreating a familiar environment
Most people will prefer a graphical user interface (GUI) that is similar to what they have been using before. A lot of times it is possible to closely emulate the existing OS, and for example in Lubuntu, you could put the panel at the bottom and created a start button. I know a lot of people spend extra time to change the start button logo and all the icons to make it look like windows but in my opinion, it doesn’t matter how the start button looks like as long as it does what the user expects. I kept the Lubuntu logo on.

“It doesn’t matter how the
start button looks like
as long as it does
what the user expects.”

Next, I looked at the software available and decided whether to use propriety software or open source software. I wanted to make the OS as user-friendly as possible. For younger users as well as for myself, I would place a dock at the bottom and the panel at the top with a start button. The start button will be familiar to Windows users whilst the dock will be familiar to Mac users. In my opinion, the dock offers much more accessibility than the start button but the start button remains useful to look for various preference settings, hardware settings, rarely used software and utilities. In this current day and age, many prefer the option to be able to search for what they want in an instance, for

In my opinion, the dock offers much more accessibility than the start button but the start button remains useful to look for various preference settings, hardware settings, rarely used software and utilities. In this current day and age, many prefer the option to be able to search for what they want in an instance, for example, KDE’s search box or the Mac Spotlight. There is also the option of putting the start button on the dock, but a panel is useful to show panel applets and notifications with other basic functions like a clock.

For advanced users, one might skip the panel entirely and use Conky to show the time and other indicators, leaving certain ones to the dock.

2) Software Selection
The benefits of open source:
Free(dom)
Having open source options allows one to migrate from one OS to another easily without needing to change to new hardware.

One example I have was installing Linux on an 8 years old desktop. IT had a Radeon Xpress 200 graphics card of which the propriety drivers from AMD (fglrx) no longer supports. Fortunately, the open source drivers fixed most of the issues.

Free(beer)
Self-explanatory. Here’s an open source beer picture on the house!

beer

The benefits of propriety software:
Functionality
Propriety software may have more features that appeal to the user most of the time. Propriety software is often tailored to meet the needs of the market and this is the number one reason why there is resistance to migration. There is very little incentive for companies to release their propriety software onto other operating systems.

Take Chrome vs Chromium, for example, it will be great to have Flash and H264 support working out of the box.

Selection based on functionality
As with any software, it is key to ensure that the requirements of the user are met. Many people online suggest ‘replacements’ but I believe there is a place for propriety software. You can’t just ‘replace’ a missing function and live with that disability. People live with disabilities because they do not have a choice.

For example, GIMP is not a replacement for Photoshop, even though both have similar functions and can probably achieve the same results. The interface and a lot of automated plugins in Photoshop are not available on GIMP or have to be inserted manually. Take, for instance, the glowing option, of which GIMP can use the drop shadow effect to simulate a glow. This is not ideal, as, in Photoshop, one can edit certain properties such as text layers after the glow option is ticked. This is not possible in GIMP, unfortunately. However, learning how to use individual plugins will teach yourself the feature in Photoshop rather than use preinstalled ones.

The biggest benefit of GIMP is the price. Teaching centres do not stock GIMP but should consider GIMP as a stepping stone. Most students are not able to afford their own copy of Photoshop.

LibreOffice is also not a replacement for Word, but it could be, depending on the context. All of these software have some version that is compatible with WINE. But the better option is to use native software rather than running through a compatibility layer.

3) Giving your users time
Migrating to Linux should be a multistep process. It is easier to make a few software changes in Windows before complete migration. For example, changing to LibreOffice in Windows, allowing users to adapt to the new software and then migrating to the new OS will yield better results. This is better than any user-friendly user-guide out there that nobody will ever read except yourself.

“Changing to LibreOffice
in Windows,
allowing
users to adapt
to the new software
and then migrating to
the new OS will
yield better results.”

Users are not going to notice the benefits beyond the GUI until significant time has passed, for example the lack of viruses and downtime. This is also why Linux is heavily used in banks for many years and in areas where security is a major concern such as in the military and police force. The Singapore Army and Italian army has opted for open source office suites for several years.

4) Issues that cannot be solved
There can never be true collaboration of open source and propriety software companies as their goals do not align, but when they work together, they become a force to be reckoned with, such as with Google Chrome. I will use Microsoft Office as an example.

chrome.png

Conflicts of Interest
For software like LibreOffice, open source has been screwed over many times with very little consequences to companies with a lot of political power. For example a lot of the data is transferable from Word to LibreOffice but where additional functions are applied, some of this data becomes corrupt. Why? Microsoft Open XML (MOX)

This is because of ODF standards and OOXML standards. One is a simple standard that is less complicated and established and the other is created by Microsoft. It is commendable that OOXML has more features. Although Microsoft has promised not to sue with regards to its patented OOXML implementation, it does

Although Microsoft has promised not to sue with regards to its patented OOXML implementation, it does not however follow the ISO/IEC 29500:2008 standards in MS Office 2007. In MS Office 2010, the program is able to read files of ISO/IEC 29500:2008  standards but does not save them as such. This adds increased difficulty for other software developers to implement features that can consistently read docx files without errors but allows Windows to read docx files implemented by other office suites. This continues to be the case till the present.

The OSX implementation of MS Office 365 clearly produces performance issues and is sub-par but due to the end-user needs, many are forced to stay with MS office either on Mac or PC, especially since submitting crucial documents require standardisation and it is not possible to edit PDF files on the go.

This is just one example of anti-competitive behavior.

Acceptance
After many years of trying to understand these issues and having lost hope of any true standardisation process, I have come to accept that software will always be different and it is important that from the start LibreOffice is used on Windows. Allowing this time to adapt will dissociate LibreOffice from being part of the OS. This helps end-users see the benefits of changing the operating system to something that is relatively virus free and responsive, with all the other native software they have been using working out of the box, such as VLC, Chrome, Firefox.

5) Strategies to ensure successful migration
a) Install native software in windows and allow users to experience them first
Users are going to interact with the applications more than the operating system itself.
b) Allow time for appreciation
c) Provide alternative or emulated software from original operating system
Some people (like my father) really like Windows Solitaire, Spider, Hearts. Others like Microsoft Office, Photoshop, etc. Find ways to allow them to use their old software if the alternative is not better. 
d) Use intuitive icons
The function must meet the expectation of the user and a lot of the expectation starts from the icon.
e) Take multiple steps at migration
Doing everything at once will guarantee failure. Users always want an option to fall back on and compare their options side by side. In the end, Linux will always be more responsive, faster and allow users to complete their tasks on time. Do not mass convert all your PCs and force it on your end-users.
f) Know your versions and choose your OS wisely
Different OS versions have different support and security updates. Know which ones are LTS. For example, I use Ubuntu based OSes where the LTS version is supported for 5 years. Thus I do not have to update my OS every two years even though. My upgrade will move from 14.04 to 18.04, skipping 16.04.
g) Ensure hardware is compatible before installing
Most hardware should be compatible but some will require tweaking. If implementing on a desktop, the odds are most of the components will work right out of the box. If implementing on laptops, it is best to consider buying from a vendor who sells laptops with preinstalled OSes.

You can always try before you migrate.

6) Questions
I hope you find this article useful and please drop any questions in the comments section so I can answer them for you. Alternatively, you may email drpoh@xellink.com if you would like to chat more privately.

7) Take home message
A happy user is more likely to accept migration than an unhappy one.

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