August 28, 2002

How Linux and Open Source are 'infiltrating' a startup

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -
Cariocas is a San Francisco-based startup that specializes in "brand relationship management" for large consumer product companies. Cariocas's "one man IT show" (his words), Daniel Curry, has gradually been introducing Linux and Open Source solutions to the company, and he says management has been happy with the results.
Curry's basic migration tactic is to implement a solution before he tells his bosses what he's done. "After it's in place," he says, "they find out."

Then, he says, "They ask, 'Why did you go that way?' and I explain dollars and pennies and my time savings to them, and they say it's okay."

The new Microsoft license model helped spur Curry's interest in using more Linux and Open Source at Cariocas.

"I did an analysis about six or seven months ago for my company," he says. "I approached them about moving everything to Open Source." Curry estimated that the move "would save us close to $50,000."

Management was happy with the idea of saving money by using Open Source software, but didn't want to lose some proprietary programs, especially Microsoft Exchange. And most Cariocas desktops are still Windows-based. Curry looked at the Bynari "Exchange replacement" server but, he says, "Management came down and simply said 'no.'"

Curry and other Linux users at the company are using Ximian Connector or IMAP email clients to connect to the Exchange server. "Connector is a 1.0 product. It works well in the capabilities it has," Curry says. "It's missing a few things I need, such as public folders, but if you can live without those it's a good tool."

Curry runs two computers himself. One is a desktop loaded with Windows 2000 that he uses to try to replicate Windows users' problems so he can fix them. The other is a Linux Thinkpad he has loaded with many Linux programs he both uses himself and is testing with an eye toward spreading them gradually through the rest of the company. He is generally happy with StarOffice, he says, but is not ready to deploy it widely because some of the company's spreadsheets contain immensely complicated calculations that don't translate well from MS Office to StarOffice.

One of the most important programs Curry uses is rdesktop for remote access to the company's (Windows) servers from his Linux laptop. One engineer in the company is also using rdesktop, and Curry says, "It gives him access to Outlook and other Windows tools, but he gets to run an Open Source desktop otherwise." Indeed, Curry hopes he can eventually get more Cariocas employees to switch to an Open Source operating system and use rdesktop to access Windows programs running on one remote server. "If I could get all my users to switch over and get one big server," he says, "I could save major money."

A major barrier to a complete Linux switchover is the lack of Linux applications that can handle some of the company's primary tasks. And even when Linux ports are available they may not be as good as the Windows versions. A prime example of this is the TogetherSoft product Cariocas uses to aid collaborative development. Curry says a Linux version is available, but it is not as stable as the Windows version.

This is a fairly typical Linux migration scenario: Some, but not all, of the company's tasks can be performed with Linux and Open Source software, so there is going to be plenty of Windows at Cariocas in the forseeable future. But every function that moves to Linux or Open Source saves money, so the migration will almost certainly continue, one slow step at a time, as new and better Linux and Open Source applications become available.

Do you have a corporate Linux or Open Source migration story to tell? Email editors@newsforge.com and we'll set up an interview.

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