Linux flunks high school
My other alternative, of course, is to swim with the penguin, and there the situation’s entirely different. I already own the hardware, no extra cost involved, and I can download the software free, except for the broadband connection cost. Fantastic. So dump Windows and switch to Linux? Other businesses have done it, so I obviously could. Free up my budget from software licences and that will give me loads more to spend on infrastructure. Since my aim was to reduce costs, this seemed like a no-brainer route to go down, or rather it did until I did a bit more digging into just what it would entail.
For a start, I’m fully Windows trained – both self-taught over the years and by attending a variety of courses for my MCSE and other qualifications – but on the Mac and Linux I’m self-taught only. And while I’ve accumulated some Unix experience over the years, I’d be the first to admit that my depth of knowledge doesn’t begin to approach what I have in Windows. (I’m sure this applies to many people running networks in small businesses and schools up and down the country, who are also contemplating the switch to Linux.) There would therefore be a certain cost involved in bringing myself up to the degree of knowledge to be able to run networks and teach in Linux, using a whole new software environment.
This gave me pause for thought, not least because I couldn’t see how I was going to find the time to do this learning. My other problem was that I wouldn’t be the only person who’d require training. Aside from a school full of pupils, I have a school full of adults who are versed in the use of Windows and its accompanying software. I couldn’t imagine the bursar and her merry crew leaping for joy when I ripped out their nicely working Windows systems, running Sage, and replaced them with Linux and whatever free accounting package is available for it. Our admin network works well at the moment, with a whole group of people who are perfectly comfortable with Windows and know how to make it do more or less what they want. Microsoft Office didn’t become the best-selling software on both Windows and Mac platforms because it was overly complicated to use and, while that old ‘most people don’t use more than 5 per cent of its features’ chestnut may be true, they’re very good at using the 5 per cent they do use. They’re happy users and that’s what I like, as does any sensible system admin in the world.
Contented users don’t spend their lives bugging you, because they’re able to get on with their work. It’s taken time, and there have been minor glitches along the way – telling the head’s secretary that she had an enormous profile wasn’t perhaps the best choice of words – but I now mostly have contented users. Would switching to a new OS and new software raise their level of contentment? It’s not just Windows and Office we use, but other crucial software packages like Sage and Act!. Once you start replacing such specialist software, you’d better have an overwhelmingly good reason for doing so, because you’re starting out down a complicated and expensive path.
The expense, of course, lies in the training required. Even if I could replace, say, Microsoft Office with an open-source alternative like OpenOffice, the users would still have to be brought up to speed in how they worked. Sure, Bold, Italic and Underline are fairly easy to spot on a toolbar, but there are loads of small areas where functionality would be different enough that people would need to relearn skills they already had. When you’ve already got nicely working mail-merge setups, for example, why would you suddenly want to go and set it all up again on another suite of software? Cost could be one motivating factor, but while the software itself might be a free download (and it isn’t always) the training and work time lost to training wouldn’t be.
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