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Linux and the Post-XP Cry for Help

By Katherine Noyes
Apr 14, 2014 4:30 PM PT

Well the Linux landscape shifted dramatically last week, and not just because of the discovery of the Heartbleed bug.

Linux and the Post-XP Cry for Help

No indeed, there's another key reason this little planet of ours isn't the same as it was a week ago, and that's none other than Windows XP's long-anticipated end of life.

"As of April 8, 2014, support and updates for Windows XP are no longer available," wrote Microsoft.

'10 Boxes Are Still Running XP'

Linux Girl

The news was hardly any surprise, of course -- but neither was the cry for help that rang out soon thereafter in the Linux blogosphere.

"Recently my boss has asked me about the advantages of Linux as a desktop operating system and if it would be a good idea to install it instead of upgrading to Windows 7 or 8," wrote an anonymous reader in an "Ask Slashdot" item two days later. "About 10 boxes here are still running Windows XP and would be too old to upgrade to any newer version of Windows."

There was, of course, a catch: "Since I am the only guy with Linux experience, I would have to support the Linux installations," said reader added.

Within seconds of the item's posting, cries of anguish and sympathy could be heard echoing throughout the Linux blogosphere. Linux Girl grabbed her Quick Quotes Quill and jumped into action.

'Danger, Will Robinson!'

"This one screams, 'Danger, Will Robinson!' to me," began Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien.

"The experience of Munich and other successful migrations is that to be successful you need to do careful planning and preparation, and make the change slowly," O'Brien explained. "I would certainly use this to point out that the company is on a bad treadmill, but all it can take is a few complaints that 'I can't exchange documents/spreadsheets/etc.' to make everyone think that this open source stuff is cheap crap."

Moreover, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression," O'Brien added. "Today there are already a lot of people whose idea of what Open Source can do was formed 10 years ago and has never been updated -- such as the idea that to use Linux you have to be on the command line all of the time."

'I Would Sit With Individual Users'

Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone had a different approach.

"I would handle it in one of two ways," Stone told Linux Girl. "One, I would sit with individual users and try to get a feel for how they use the computer and how flexible they are to change."

Just because an individual is still using Windows XP "doesn't mean that they're particularly stuck in their ways -- it could be that they could easily adapt to a new Linux environment," he pointed out.

'They Accept It Very Well'

Two, "I would make Linux look as much like Windows XP as possible," Stone said. "One of the many great things about Linux is that it's easy to make it look like pretty much anything, including making it resemble Windows XP to the point that many people couldn't tell the difference. It may not be a positive experience for the end user, but at least it will be a negative experience that they're familiar with."

Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol has been transitioning users for years, he told Linux Girl.

"At first users find it strange, but once they learn they are protected against virus, malware and data loss, they accept it very well," he said.

Of course, "training is essential," he added. "But once you train your crew, it's just sit back and relax."

'They Can Stop Wasting Time'

Blogger Robert Pogson has "converted hundreds of PCs to GNU/Linux," he told Linux Girl, and "it helps to give the users a user-interface not too different from what they have been using with XP. I recommend Debian GNU/Linux with the Xfce desktop."

Pogson also recommends "warning staff that the PCs have been rejuvenated so they can stop wasting time leaning back in their chairs, getting coffee or chatting before getting down to work," Pogson added.

"If I were responsible for a roll-out in business, I would be sure to run an SSH server on each machine and establish passwordless SSH logins from my own PC or server so that software and performance could be managed remotely," he suggested.

'Users Notice That'

"A sure-fire way to impress the staff is to give them the performance of GNU/Linux from a new PC or server instead of their old machines," Pogson said. "I recommend using LTSP if you have at least one powerful PC or server on site.

"The big advantage of this is that when some common operation is done by any user, the executable files can be shared in the RAM of the server so that the user's hard drive doesn't have to seek all over Creation to find everything," he explained. "So, instead of LibreOffice taking 10s to open its window on an old PC, it can happen in less than 2s. Users notice that."

In short, "when I converted a bunch of XP machines to GNU/Linux, my administrative workload plunged because GNU/Linux just keeps on working," Pogson concluded. "No Patch Tuesdays. No malware. No constant re-imaging. No replacing PCs every few years. We even tripled the number of PCs in the system and still the workload was trivial."

'People Are Shocked It's Not Windows'

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack also singled out the Xfce desktop, but with a different distro.

"If (and I mean IF) all of the apps they need will be there, then I would suggest starting with Mint + Xfce," Mack told Linux Girl. "It is relatively lightweight on older hardware, and you can put the button bar on the bottom so things are familiar for XP users.

"Seriously, people are shocked when they watch me use my PC and find out it's not Windows," he added.

'This Is Expert Territory'

One of the big challenges in getting Linux working in a business desktop environment is that "managing Linux workstations is just different than it is for Windows workstations," Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told Linux Girl.

"Unfortunately, this is expert territory, so you are likely to need a couple of expert admins instead of an army of minimally competent ones," he asserted.

However, "numbers win out over quality in terms of price, so you are likely to save quite a bit of money by having a few expert admins design and maintain your Linux desktop environment rather than have Windows workstations," Travers predicted.

'Better Off With Out-of-Date XP'

Last but not least, SoylentNews blogger hairyfeet wasn't so sure.

"Until I can hand a customer a Linux box and be assured that five years from now the drivers will still be in 100 percent working order, there is no comparison," hairyfeet said. "In fact, if the choice is running XP with a third-party browser and antivirus versus running Linux? I'd still vote for XP -- it will last longer without major breakage."

In short, "the answer is simple," hairyfeet said. "Unless you have skilled Linux gurus on hand that are willing to put in the hours OR you spend more than Windows on support contracts for Red Hat? Then all you will end up with is headaches and failures.

"At the end of the day, until someone makes MASSIVE improvements to the desktop user experience, software and driver stability, and ease of use," he concluded, "any company would be better off with out-of-date XP or buying Win 7 and using XP mode for unsupported software."

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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