Transition corporate PCs from Windows 98/XP to SUSE Linux

A nearby university media organization has over 100 PCs that are aging badly, a real menagerie of PCs spanning from Windows 98 to Windows XP. After a recent upgrade of building infrastructure to 100 Mbps Ethernet, end users starting noticing the slowness of their multimedia experience was CPU bound instead of network bound. One proposal was to buy long-term stable Dell enterprise PCs and make uniform images of Windows XP. I made an alternate proposal to use SUSE Linux 9.3, WINE and OpenOffice. WINE and Microsoft Office are not quite perfect yet, and so we encouraged people to use OpenOffice.

People are very much creatures of habit, and it is jarring for some of them to go to the Office 97-like interface of OpenOffice. Also the document compatibility is an issue. Because it’s a media organization, they make use of advanced document templates and things often don’t look quite right in OpenOffice. I chose to use the OpenOffice 2.0 Beta because of the new native format and better Office compatibility.

So far, our initial deployment of 6 Linux PCs to replace Windows XP is working for 5 of the 6 people. The problem is, if we can’t please all 6, then it will be difficult to convince management to go ahead with a full Windows -> Linux transition. Asking users to go from Cool Edit to Audacity may be a bridge too far, so for now we focus on Admin staff. The creative staff already use a mix of Mac, Amiga, DOS and Windows machines, so they are not afraid of heterogeneity.

A real issue with going all Windows XP is it requires a uniform hardware set to allow imaging for mass deployment. With Linux it is not a problem to have minor to moderate variation in PC architecture for a given OS image, as long as the CPU family is the same. We know there is a big transition to 64-bit coming, and I’m not sure I can hold them off until Intel Prescott and other Intel 64 bit CPUs become more mainstream.

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