August 13, 2009

Working with Ubuntu Linux in a Microsoft Environment

I have worked with a company that is a Microsoft Gold Partner for the past 4 summers as PC Repair Technician and a Network Technician.  Needless to say, they sell, use, install, and maintain Microsoft Products.  I have been using Linux (Ubuntu, most often) for the past few years, and decided (a while ago) to ditch dual-booting-for-work-purposes and dive head-on into a Microsoft world with Ubuntu.  Some specific tasks that are needed:

  • Microsoft Office compatibility(Word, Excel, and occasionally Visio)
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2003/2008 administration (Remote Desktop)
  • Windows shares (samba)
  • GoToAssist
  • ESX Server Administration (VMware Infrastructure Client)
  • Microsoft CRM
  • Network Printing

Some tasks that come in handy:

  • Testing in a virtual machine
  • Network utilities (ping, traceroute, wireshark)
  • Data recovery/backup

Microsoft Office compatibility

OpenOffice has proven exactly what is needed in this area.  In fact, our weekly-timesheet (Created in MS Excel) that automatically calculates how many hours you’ve worked for the week, adjusting for a lunch you report, etc, has worked flawlessly.  I am able to open, modify, and save anything that I need.  Except for Visio.  Visio is one of the products that doesn’t play so nicely.  I find Dia as an excellent replacement on the Linux side, and there even exists a Windows version!  The problem is convincing the techs to switch a utility that is different than what the existing diagrams are created in.

Microsoft Windows Server 2003/2008 Administration

tsclient and rdesktop, what more can I say?  Perfect for my needs.

Windows Shares

I am able to mount, browse, traverse, climb, roll, jump, and swim where I need to on our network with Nautilus and samba.

GoToAssist/ESX Server Administration/Microsoft CRM

These were three things that I was unable to get working properly natively.  For these three, I was forced to either use VirtualBox and virtualize Windows XP install, or using tsclient/rdesktop to log into our citrix server and navigate that way.

  • GoToAssist:  We have a license to use GoToAssist where the client browses to our website, clicks a link, types a code we provide to them, downloads and installs a plugin, and we can remotely view their screen and control it.  It makes remote support a breeze.  The problem with GoToAssist, is that it doesn’t offer a linux native client, it will not run properly with wine.
  • ESX Server Administration:  When we deployed, version 3.5 was the latest that was out.  Apparently, there are other people looking to get this running in wine, but I had no success.  ESXi has since upgraded to 4.0; VMWare Infrastructure Client is now known as vSphere, and they offer a command line manager that I installed and tried to run, was unsuccessful, and didn’t have the time to futs with it anymore.  I am excited to watch for the vSphere Linux client (which I read somewhere is in the works!)
  • Microsoft CRM.  I have to admit, I hate this product.  The product might be great if it was used as intended, but it is not intended for how we use it.  Other products like AutoTask and ConnectWise (yes, OS independent) are more suited for our use and, coincidentally, they are planning to migrate to one of these products in the near future.  Microsoft CRM forces you to use Internet Explorer because it makes heavy use of ActiveX, and I had ie4linux, but had problem after problem with it freezing up.  I didn’t use it extensively, but only seemed to have problems with our particular web portal.

Network Printing

Network printing was way too easy to set up.  Printer Settings -> New Printer -> Select “Network Printer,” and it found our HP LaserJet 1022n.  An automated script downloaded the particular drivers from HP, and I was on my way to flawless printing.

Virtual Environments

As mentioned before, I had to rely on either VirtualBox, or remote access to a Windows machine for complete integration (GoToAssist, ESX Server Administration, Microsoft CRM).

Network Utilities

Utilities like ping, traceroute, and wireshark posed no problem (yes, of course they exist for linux).


It proves difficult to completely break-away from Microsoft in this particular environment while still maintaining a level of adequacy.  Certain software doesn’t offer non-windows compatible versions.  If someone truly looking forward to breaking away, decisions can be made for software and tools to be used that are cross-platform and not OS discriminatory (or at least mostly).  I have found success in this environment that didn’t require too many changes from my normal day-to-day computer usage.

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