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Linux Vendors Push Migration Strategies

Moving to Linux 101

April 8, 2004

As the spotlight shines ever brighter on the Linux operating system, vendors have begun to develop strategies to help their customers assess the cost of migrating to Linux and open source software and make a smooth transition to a Linux environment.

In recent weeks, IBM, Lindows.com, and Sun Microsystems have announced initiatives to help IT departments make more intelligent Linux or open-source purchasing decisions.

IBM rolled out a "Windows to Linux" roadmap aimed at enterprises with expiring Microsoft Windows NT licenses. Lindows.com released a Desktop Linux Enterprise Assessment kit, while Sun weighed in with a tool to help customers make a smoother transition from Microsoft Office to StarOffice and OpenOffice. Even Novell has begun supporting Linux and has developed cross-platform system management tools.

Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at Red Monk, thinks that it's a natural progression for vendors to start developing these kinds of tools for customers.

"The compelling driver whether desktop or server, is that there is significant interest in Linux, and there are certainly going to be vendors who cater to that need. What we are seeing are Linux vendors and service vendors like HP and IBM, who have Linux offerings they would like to pitch, positioning themselves to take care of those migration tasks," O'Grady said.

Bruce Lowry, spokesperson for Novell, points out that even when enterprises recognize the advantages of switching to Linux, in the end, it is still a business decision, and organizations are often looking for guidance.

"Once they recognize, here is an alternative, at that point, obviously migrations strategies and tools and methodologies become an issue because if the cost of getting there is not worth their time, then the benefits of the value proposition goes by the way side," Lowry stated.

Although Novell hasn't developed specific migration tools, they have developed tools to allow different operating systems including Linux to peacefully co-exist within the same organization along with consulting and methodologies related to migrating people on the desktop and in the data center.

Lindows.com also wanted to make it easier for enterprise customers to look at Lindows as a desktop Linux alternative, so they recently released a new software product called the Desktop Linux Assessment Kit, which provides access to several versions of the Lindows operating system all accessible from one bootable DVD disk.

According to Lindows.com spokesperson Kira Lee, they developed this product after hearing from customers that they wanted a way to assess before they buy. "We have felt a lot of interest from end users and businesses. They were hearing so much buzz about what kind of benefits Linux has, but large organizations need to be cautious. They don't want to dive in without being prepared," Lee says.

The kit enables customers to try several flavors of Lindows without having to worry about setting up a test machine to just get a feel if it's the right choice for them. "It's not easy to undertake a migration strategy. If the interest is there and motivation is there, we are trying to do our part to make it as easy as possible," Lee said.

Red Monk's O'Grady says the Linux server market is more mature than the desktop and vendors need to pay closer attention to desktop buyers.

"I think the desktop and server markets are facing different challenges, but vendors are targeting those as opportunities from a migration perspective." O'Grady added, "If you are going to be pitching migration strategies, you have to look at Microsoft alternatives," and that's where Sun's OpenOffice and StarOffice come into play, and they certainly recognize their need to provide seamless integration between their products and existing installations of Microsoft Office.

Sun recently announced a Migration Toolkit to help customers move to StarOffice or OpenOffice. According to Iyer Venkatesan, product marketing manager for StarOffice, the Migration Toolkit has a macro converter, document converter, and table counter. It computes the amount of time it will take to convert the document set and includes other tools to make the conversion as seamless as possible.

"The toolkit's main goals are to make migration from Microsoft Office to StarOffice a lot smoother and to make the documents that contain macros import [smoothly] into StarOffice," Venkatesan indicated. So far, he said, they boast approximately a 90 percent successful conversion rate for simple documents, but documents with more complex formatting may be more difficult to convert and require more individual attention.

To that end, Sun recently added a macro converter helps convert Visual Basic macros to Star Basic. In addition, they are forming partnerships with third parties in many countries to provide organizations with local consulting services when needed to convert more difficult document sets.

Clearly, vendors recognize that they have an opportunity here and if they address customer migration concerns before the sale, they can move more customers to Linux and open source solutions.

O'Grady believes that as we move forward, enterprise customers will grow more comfortable with Linux and other open source products and customers will require less hand-holding.

"There are so many open source projects that have been wildly successful that this is proof this is not a phenomenon, not a one time event, but a legitimate development track for IT staff. Its time has come and it's quite clear Linux is here to stay," O'Grady explained.

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