How to Run a Microsoft-Free Shop

By Scott Berinato
Tue, January 01, 2002

CIO — Do you find that you’re incapable of stopping upgrades? Do you spend much of your day patching security holes? Do you have a vague sense that you’re spending too much money on software? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you may have become overly dependent on Microsoft. Here’s a handy 12-step program to cure your condition.

STEP 1

We admitted we were powerless to manage our Microsoft software.

Many CIOs feel they are in a double bind with Microsoft products. The software itself seems always in need of security patches. The Windows 2000 server, for example, currently has 154 files available for download at Microsoft.com, nearly half of which are security updates.

Windows XP makes things worse. The product’s new subscription licensing model has raised the ire of many executives because they feel it forces them into frequent upgrades in order to get their money’s worth. But in a recent CIO survey, a majority (65 percent) admitted they weren’t considering any alternatives. "A lot of us will just cry foul but then pony up," says one CIO.

STEP 2

We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore our IT department to sanity.

Linux is that power. It is less expensive to acquire. It takes up less hard disk space and requires less memory to run. There is elegance in the open-source code license: You can have the source code for free, allowing you to upgrade or patch systems as you like. The only rule is that when you develop something new out of the source code, you must share that code with everyone else. Many developers believe this open-source model makes Linux inherently more secure than a proprietary operating system.

"We think we’ll get blazing performance," says David Larsen, director of IS in Murray City, Utah, who’s starting a migration to Linux desktops. "The other thing is, Linux is being taught in schools. It’s getting easier to find skills. It’s something whose time is coming."

STEP 3

We made a decision to turn our lives over to Linux as we understood Linux.

this is the hardest part of running a Microsoft-free shop: deciding to do it. Linux has a geek’s reputation. At the same time, many executives have a crude interpretation of its value to corporations?"It’s free, and therefore it’s cheap." Slowly, that mentality is changing, but it’s still true that there first must be a wholehearted and willing embrace of Linux as a legitimate enterprise replacement for Microsoft. This journey usually starts with a tech executive playing around. Maybe it’s a Linux firewall on a home machine. Maybe it’s a Linux desktop on an old Pentium that was collecting dust. But it starts at the top. A Microsoft-free IT shop cannot exist without the CIO reading up on and understanding the power of the alternatives.

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