Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Migration to Open Source Systems

My friend KM Chan has some experience on the migration to open source systems as follows.

The considerations mentioned in the article, though valid, are nothing new. As you have pointed out earlier, the choice should not be between Open Source and non-Open Source software but rather the most suitable programs for us. Similarly the migration needs not be an all (Windows) or nothing (but Linux) situation.

I think we can start with some small steps and the guiding principle is to use free software if possible in order to save costs, including licence fees as well as staff costs involved in procurement and inventory-keeping.

(A) The easiest step is to replace those commercial products where the compatibility problem is minimal, e.g. zip, pdf, media player, CD burning. As long as the job is done, it doesn't really matter what software we have used to do it. See my blog entries http://tinyurl.com/46fo3 and http://tinyurl.com/3w6xb for more on zip and pdf.

(B) Next we may consider those software whose compatibility issues will not have a great impact. What I have in mind are e.g. html editor, graphicpackages, flow-charter, publisher. Files produced by these programs are rarely interchanged (edited) outside the organization - in most cases, a read-only finished product will be all that is required and a html or pdf version will be adequate. So there should not be much problem in this category if we can standardize them within the organization.

(C) It is true that OpenOffice.org is incompatible with Microsoft Office and it will cause us trouble if both programs are used. Yet I believe the impact of such incompatibility is often exaggerated. In our daily office work, what we write are mainly memos and minutes and fancy formatting is in fact not really necessary. And OpenOffice.org can handle simple MSOffice files quite well. Furthermore, is it really important, say, if we have a few distortions in the format, when we use OpenOffice.org to complete a form produced by MS Office ? The biggest obstacle is still the users' reluctance to changes. But in the computer world, changes are inevitable - just think of how we have migrated from WordStar to Multimate to WordPerfect and to Word. The migrations were not even triggered by cost-saving concerns.

(D) We can still use Windows for all of the above and the support/training effort will be manageable. The next big step to Linux will be much more difficult but I understand that HK Post have some Linux workstationsinstalled in the post offices where the staff can use them for Internet, e-mail and reading departmental circulars (i.e., where document exchanges are rarely necessary). This reminds me that not all offices are working like what we usually see, where a large number of documents are produced, edited, transmitted and filed. There are in fact many staff who only needto read the documents and submit simple returns, and it is in these sections that Windows can be made redundant.

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