Thursday, June 12, 2008

Microsoft Free - One year later

In May of 2007 I wrote a post called Open Source and Microsoft Free. Little did I know that this post would show up on Digg, Slashdot, Craigslist, and several other popular web sites and become a platform for both the Linux and Microsoft camps to wage yet another flame war.

This whole "Microsoft free" experiment started when a colleague of mine challenged me to eat my own dog food after reading many of my posts about my dabbling with open source technologies. The next day, after a few blue screens of death and various issues with Outlook, I grabbed a Ubuntu CD and installed it on my laptop....at work! From that day forward, I have not used a single Microsoft product at work. It has been one year now and I have survived with Thunderbird and Evolution, Open Office, Firefox, and many other open source replacements for Microsoft products.

I put "Microsoft free" in quotes because there are a few exceptions. First, I did install IE 6.0 under wine for that rare occasion that I stumble across a website that only works on IE. Second, there is no answer for Visio. Most of the Visio diagrams that I needed to read were embedded in design documents in Word which I can read with Open Office Writer. But for those that I needed Visio for, I opened them at home on my XP box (I have 1 XP, 1 Vista, and 5 Linux boxes at home). I also used Visio at home when I had to create Visio diagrams. The issue is Visio's proprietary format is not available for developers to write a translation utility for.

With those two issues aside, which represents about 1% of my overall usage on my laptop, my Open Source experience was nearly flawless. Open Office worked remarkably well both receiving Microsoft Office files and creating files in Office format. I exchanged literally thousands of documents between Microsoft Office and Open Office. I never encountered a single issue with Word and Excel and occasionally encountered minor formatting issues with Power Point files. The formatting issues where nothing more then some minor placement issues which probably occurred less then 5% of the time.

Over the course of the year I experimented with Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Freespire, Mepis, and PCLinuxOS. I settled on Kubuntu and recently upgraded with ease to the latest version, Hardy Heron. Here is my analysis of the different Linux distros from last fall. With this "Microsoft free" laptop I have coexisted with 1000+ employees who use XP and various verions of Office including 2007 (the 2007 compatibility add-on works fine). I also delivered presentations at conferences using Open Office Impress and traveled across the country and internationally with no issues with wireless connectivity.

I am not in any camps. I use XP and Linux at home and like both. I gave Outlook the boot years ago at home and do just fine with Thunderbird. It has every feature I need. I do however have problems with Vista. But my message here is not about recommending what tools that my readers should use. My message is that I performed at a high level at work while using Linux, Open Office, and other open source products. These tools did not hinder my ability to do my job and did not impact anyone else at my job. I was able to productively coexist with no Microsoft tools in a Microsoft shop. That is all I am trying to say.

I am not going to recommend to anybody that they change their company standards away from Microsoft. What I will tell you is that open source is a viable alternative that can be used in a production environment. So when you see flame wars where the two camps argue back and forth about their favorite technology, you can point to this post when people claim that Linux and Open Office just won't work in the work place. I have validated that they do work for over 365 days now. Whether we should use these tools at work is a whole different story that really depends on factors like corporate culture, skill sets, budgets, user base, executive support, and many others.

All I can say is that for the last year, I have been using Open Source exclusively and I am loving it!

Mike Kavis

Microsoft Free - One year later

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