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I'm a newbie systems administrator, so any advice would be great. I would like to setup ubuntu 8.04 LTS in a small office of consulting in management (around 50 workstations) instead of Windows XP. I would install MS Office 2007 via WINE (*). It would be a fresh installation, so the migration would be less of a pain.

The new setup would also include a small server as document repository and a backup server by now. Later, I would install another goodies like a IM server, a document management solution, and whatnot collaborative tool.

What do you advice in this scenario? Do you think is viable? Should I try to convince my managers this is a good idea? I consider myself as a fairly experienced user in both systems, and I'm the only guy in charge of everything. I need to cut costs down, and I think that antivirus and antimalware software are a waste of money and time. Is this good idea?, or should I resign and try to lock down the Windows systems and install AV software? Is there anything else in this setup I'm not foreseeing?

(*) The only catch in my test machine until now had been that Office SmartArt doesn't work properly, the rest of Office 2007 may seem ok.

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10 Answers 10

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I was in this position 2.5 years ago when I started with my current employer. Being that we are a non-profit it was placed upon me to cut costs as seamlessly as possible in a fashion that would have as little effect on the users as possible.

My first thought was to go the route that you are thinking. Then I got to know my fellow employees (ie. customers). As stated in previous posts most didn't know how to even follow simple directions to add a network share drive let alone learn a new OS without being bugged with the simple, mundane questions every .005 seconds.

What I've found is that most users don't like change. They get used to things and like them to stay the way they are and then you hear nothing but complaints and "how do I..." for weeks or months even though you have provided the simple documentation on how to do something. A great example of this is the way that I've had my users react when I upgraded from Office XP to Office 2k7. Some love it, most hate it and I am still dealing with some people on it months later!

Another thing, are you running proprietary applications other than Office in your network? This was probably the biggest deciding factor for me not going this route as we do have some proprietary software that would just not work correctly under WINE no matter how hard I tried. Maybe things have changed now...

My point is, not only do you have to take your boss into consideration when making this change (as ultimately it's their call), you have got to take your fellow employees into consideration as well. Initial cost savings in going a route like this may be great off the top, but what are the hidden costs going to be? What's the cost going to be of you having to do all the re-training on using Linux instead of Windows? How many hours will this take you to implement and then what's the cost of that? What's the cost going to be in you running around doing the simple, mundane tasks that your users won't do (and trust me they won't) because they don't know how and won't read your simple guide on how to add a network printer under Linux even though the one they should be using is scripted to logon, but they insist on having this particular one available to them?

Remember the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) rule. It's not only for you but your "customers" as well, and often one will affect the other in your happiness.

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Before we made the switch to Office 2007 we held rigorous training sessions and seminars to prepare all the users. Apparently that was a good call ^^ –  Oskar Duveborn Apr 23 '10 at 6:55
    
Yeah we held the trainings, apparently they weren't rigorous enough. Lesson learned! –  Aaron Apr 23 '10 at 14:01

As you will have gathered by now, what you're proposing isn't a very popular idea. I, like many others, have also looked into the possibility of switching from Windows to Linux. To be honest, I personally prefer a Mac but that's another story.

While asking questions on a site like this may give you food for thought in the end only you can determine if it's a good idea. With that said, I have to agree with others that running Microsoft Office on Wine is not a really good idea. You will have constant problems. Mostly the problems will be small but really irritating.

If your users cannot or will not switch to Open Office or some other native Office package You really should stay with Windows. My own experience with trying to get users to switch has been distinctly less that positive. It's hard enough when we do a version upgrade, let alone a complete OS or application switch. The time lost in re-education will likely cost more than what you'll save on the software.

The advice would of course be the same for the reverse situation.

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Never use wine in production environments. If you go the Linux route, use OpenOffice or Lotus Symphony, don't even think of using Microsoft Office with wine. If you depend on Microsoft Office and can't change it, don't even consider the Windows -> Linux transition.

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For the server at least, wait for a few weeks and go for the new LTS- that way you have have a supported OS a lot longer, and newer packages. If you have the hardware to spare, you might want to look at having a router/gateway appliance which does AV as well, like untangle- this will let you monitor the whole network for viruses, amongst other goodies.

If you need office 2007, windows is probably a better option. If you do go ubuntu, you'll likely need to retrain your staff anyway, so you might as well go for OOo. The one place i do see a problem is with the mail client- evolution- which iirc is the ubuntu default can be a pain, so you may want/need to swap it for firefox,

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Bring these concerns forward to your boss (especially the part where you can save a bunch in licensing, very low malware risk, etc.) and see if you can get some buy-in for a pilot project.

Assemble a small group of pilot users (voluntary or ask nicely) and explain what you're trying to do (hopefully your boss is there backing you) and how it will benefit them (safer experience, cut costs, etc.). Make sure that your pilot group is a good representation of all the roles and use-cases in your organization.

You can customize an Ubuntu Live CD with the software you need so that you can do your pilot without actually making any changes (strongly recommend you thoroughly test the Live CD yourself before giving to the pilot group to ensure the pilot gets a fair assessment).

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If you put WINE on Linux, you end up with a mostly complatible machine, with no support from anybody, and just as vulnerable. Yes, most malware runs on WINE, or at least become a productivity menace, just as in Windows.

either stay with windows (lots of malware, but supported by anybody and his dog), or with Linux (next to no malware, but scary to windows regulars).

IOW: if you just need a good, fast, efficient office machine, try OOo on Linux. if you need MSOffice, stay on windows (but still install OOo and try to convince them to use it as much as possible).

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As long as a test install works satisfactory for your end-users and you have a way to manage these 50 workstations without running around all day, why not.

How do you lock down the Ubuntu installation? I mean, locking down any system takes time and not only Windows needs it but Windows have many automated and well-tested tools to help you. If you use Applocker in Windows 7 there's not much need for AV software but perhaps your users are themselves administrators who wants to install whatever they want? Would you use something like Landscape? How do you administer and centralize user accounts?

Other things, setting up an IM server, how do you push out the client and configure it for all users without having to individually walk them through the process? How do you reinstall a workstation that crashed or malfunctioned - how much time is required for each choice of platform?

There's simply too many different factors to take into account here for a proper answer. I'm inclined in an office environment to invest good money in a platform with great automation and management tools as an initial investment is usually easier to argue for than any long-term standing maintenance costs/time.

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Generally speaking, I would advice against this. When working with users who have no IT knowledge to speak of, which I assume to be the case, you really do not want to force the away from the interface they're used to. We still use XP as well, despite having the funds and the knowledge (within the IT department that is) to fully migrate to Windows 7. We just don't want to get all of our users to come rushing in because their start button is slightly different.

Just this morning, we had to move a network share, and our system automatically sends an email notification to those who have access to it with a walkthrough how to disconnect the network drive and re-map it. All they have to do is read the massive text of 5 lines and follow the easy steps. Guess what. It didn't work. They mailed and called and mailed again, until I finally put aside the problem we're having with our SFTP server, connected to their machine, and followed the exact same steps. It mapped the drive perfectly fine in what couldn't have been more than 15 seconds total, including looking up their machine name and connecting.

Just to give you an idea of what kind of users you will have to deal with, in most environments anyway.

Good luck not losing your mind ;)

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Well users don't read walk-throughs - but an order to log out and in again they would understand (for your scripts to do the work for them ;) –  Oskar Duveborn Apr 22 '10 at 14:33
    
Would a script disconnect the drive, regardless of what letter is assigned to it? –  HannesFostie Apr 22 '10 at 14:38
    
Yeah, just did exactly that for a department for a share that moved today actually ^^ To be really helpful one could actually run such a script while they're logged in, but that would be bothersome if they had open file handles on the share... –  Oskar Duveborn Apr 22 '10 at 14:46
    
With the risk of going too much offtopic, you wouldn't happen to want to share your script? –  HannesFostie Apr 22 '10 at 20:02

I think this is a question for your boss. You'll find many fans of ubuntu here no doubt but whether it will work or not for your company is specific to you. Set up one machine with the config you'd imagine and give your boss a demo and see what he/she thinks. I'm less sure about the costs savings though. If you're buying new PCs they're going to come with a Windows license anyway and there are plenty of very good free antivirus/antimalware applications out there. Also, starting new with Windows XP? Really? If you go the Windows route, Vista is far more secure at this point and XP is getting old enough that drivers are becoming an issue with some new hardware. I'm also not convinced Office via Wine is going to be as trouble-free as you imagine. Remember, your job is to serve your users and make their life as easy as possible - not to build something you think is cool.

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personally I've had some problems with minor features in Office 2007 not working correctly under wine. Granted I haven't tried it in a year or so though.

My opinion is that in an office environment Ubuntu isn't a drop in replacement for windows, yet. I've run across too many programs that I need to be able to run that will only run on windows.

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