What is Linux?
Linux has been around for a number of years, and, for those who don't know, it is a free operating system originally coded by Linus Torvalds in 1991.
Since then it has been improved, altered and grown by other developers, who do so without charge. The only proviso is that they make the "code" available to all to continue the growth of the operating system. Many software houses have made their own "flavour" of Linux, like Ubuntu, Suse, RedHat, Lindows, xandros, LinuxMint etc. Most of these are free, or have free versions, but some charge between $50 and $100. I have been using Ubuntu as my personal operating system for 9 months now, and I have been very impressed, not only with the system itself, but also with the amount of support offered online. Ubuntu is developed and supported by Mark Shuttleworth's company Canonical.
Why is Linux not used in the legal environment?
It is no secret that there are alternatives to Microsoft Windows, it was just that it did not make sense to change. Some of the reasons not to change were:
- Support for Linux was hard to find
- Applications to run on Linux were scarce and limited in functionality
- The Graphical User Interface (GUI) was not as slick as Windows
- Compatibility with the Microsoft (MS) produced documents was not good
- It was too different to that which people were used to
- Software vendors did not support Linux.
So has this all changed?
Most of these issues have been addressed. However, with one or two exceptions, local legal software vendors do not support Linux, as the return on their investment for this development and the ongoing support for their software to run on Linux is not viable. What may well change this is the Software as a Service (SaaS) movement, which runs the application inside the internet browser. This means that you would be able to use any operating system, as long as the browser was compatible with the SaaS application.
If the applications don't run on Linux, where can you use Linux?
If your firm uses MS Terminal Server (a session running off your main file server, but displaying results on your PC like a virtual computer), Linux would allow you to connect to the Terminal Server. This would save costs on operating software, and I would imagine it would boot up a lot faster than Windows.
If the partners at your firm do not use legal software applications, it is a great idea to run Linux and OpenOffice. OpenOffice is a free document, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and database office suite that is very powerful, and can read and write in MS formats like .doc, .xls, .ppt etc. To view email one would have to use something like Evolution or Thunderbird.
In fact anyone in the office that does not need to run heavy-duty legal applications could use Linux and OpenOffice.
Does this mean that local legal applications cannot run on Linux?
I have in the past got some applications to work in Linux via an application called "Wine" with limited success. You could also use an application called CrossOver, which emulates a Windows session. And lastly as far as I know you could try VMWare, which sets up a virtual Windows system within Linux. Of course you would still need the Windows licenses. With these emulators, I would suggest getting your IT staff to test it first. So far I have not seen any Windows based application running properly on a Linux system, except for VMWare, but that defeats the purpose!
Other than the cost saving, why else should we use Linux?
In general Linux is less hungry on computer resources, it is faster and more stable. Also software hackers and virus coders tend to pay less attention to Linux as it is not as popular.
So here are some ideas on how to use Linux to help your firm save money.
- When your computers have to be upgraded for whatever reason, refresh the computer (format the drive) and install Linux for people who don't use computers that often. A lot of partners still don't have PCs, so instead of donating these "older" PCs to charity or the local dump, use them to get partners connected to email.
- If you use Terminal Server, when buying new systems use Ubuntu rather than Windows.
- For home systems (unless you want to play games) use the PCs that have been replaced by faster systems when applications force the upgrade. Install a Linux flavour, and you should find the speed will be surprisingly faster.
- OpenOffice office suite is a great alternative to the expensive MS Office, and you can also run it on MS Windows.
When purchasing new systems, think about the possibilities that exist or that are created with the use of Linux, and don't just assume it has to be Windows. For people who don't need MS Word to run legal software applications, use OpenOffice on Windows if you have to have Windows.
Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions, or need any advice on free software and operating systems.