Microsoft Office document dependencies keep desktop Linux niche

Both Linux and Windows desktops have their problems

IT managers considering the future of their organization's desktops need to be wary of the amount of dependence workers have on Microsoft Office documents -- which cause the most lock-in, according to one consultant.

Speaking at this year's linux.conf.au conference in Melbourne, independent Linux desktop and open source software consultant Lindsay Holmwood said the dependence on Office documents, particularly Excel spreadsheets can be so great some organizations have considered rolling back Linux deployments to cater for end-users.

"Some of the failures in the desktop Linux space include end-user acceptance of OpenOffice.org," Holmwood said. "For the company I work for there is a lot of end-user generation of Office documents and there was such a backlash they thought about rolling back the Linux deployment and using Office [on Windows]."

Holmwood worked with Kennards Hire to deploy Linux desktops for point-of-sale systems in its branch offices and said the backlash received was due to the consultant and company underestimating the role of Office documents within the organization.

"You can route around the problem of Office by using a Web app but it is still a barrier to entry for Linux on the corporate desktop," he said, adding for knowledge workers it is a big issue and a huge sticking point.

"Technical problems are easily solved, but things that give us more contention are business and management decisions. To get desktop Linux into an organization you need to bundle it with something else."

Holmwood said Kennards needed a new POS system and decided to go with Linux and the roll out is happening now after a few years of development.

So far Kennards has gone live with the POS system to 45 branches.

"The other reason they went with Linux was the former IT manager heard a lot about 'the year of the Linux desktop' and then evaluated it in comparison with Windows," Holmwood said. "The fact of the matter is it would have been cheaper to use Windows than Linux because of the project management issues and the whole learning experience."

However, Holmwood praised Kennards for taking the Linux desktop plunge. "For them Linux works really well, it's rock solid, and they don't have to worry about viruses and malware."

That said, Kennards is not going to move to Linux on the desktop in other parts of the organization.

"That's a testament to the variability of Linux which works well in niche environments," he said. "In terms of people and knowledge workers using it is not going to happen any time soon because the apps they rely on are so entrenched in Windows."

While Holmwood believes a Linux desktop deployment requires careful planning, he said Windows has its downsides as well.

"You could pay a pittance to some organization to deploy Windows, but you will have no end of problems managing a Windows environment," he said. "If you decide to move from Windows to Linux you will have a different set of problems."

Holmwood said people who work on desktop Linux may be few and far between, but "they know their stuff".

"The trick is to sell it to management and even if they don't have a lot of Linux desktop skills in the company it may fit a niche perfectly."

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