March 23, 2005

Why Novell's internal migration to Linux desktops is a landmark story

Author: Joe Barr

SALT LAKE CITY -- There have been so many announcements, so much activity, such a hurried
pace to the Brainshare 2005 conference that I think many may have overlooked the
big story. It was thrown out in an almost offhand manner
during Novell CEO Jack Messman's keynote address on Monday: Longtime Microsoft partner Novell is migrating all of its own 6,000 Windows desktops to Linux.

I asked to speak to an executive who could tell me about the migration, and CIO Debra Anderson was kind enough to make herself available in spite of her own hectic schedule to tell the tale.

The migration began last summer. Actually the first phase began the previous year, with the move from Microsoft Office
to Anderson set an ambitious goal for that
first phase: She wanted to migrate 90 percent of MS Office users to OOo in
three months. They almost made that goal, too, with 85 percent migrated during
that time frame. There were lessons to be learned from those who
couldn't migrate, and feedback to the OOo developers got work started on
removing some of the tougher obstacles. (Note: I've heard unconfirmed
reports that Novell has hired a number of OOo developers since then.)

Main migration began last year

The main Linux migration began last summer, with 120 volunteers from the
Novell workforce stepping up to start, even before the release of
Novell Linux Desktop. Once again, Anderson set an ambitious goal: She
wanted 50 percent of the Novell workforce running on Linux desktops by October.
They made this one, and the 50 percent were all volunteers.

Anderson pointed out that the company's belief in the move -- and by
company, we are not talking about only top management but rank-and-file
Novell employees, as demonstrated by the large number of volunteers who
stepped forward -- has made her task easier than it would be for other
CIOs at other firms.

Novell's fiscal year begins in November, and the goal for desktop
migration during the current fiscal year is just as high as for earlier
ones -- 80 percent to be migrated by year's end. Why not 100 percent? Because of lessons learned
during the migration thus far. The key lesson is that Linux is not ready to handle all the
functionality performed on Windows desktops today. However, a significant
percentage has already been migrated -- significant as in
$900,000 savings in MS Office and MS Windows licensing fees for Novell
last year. And those savings will continue to accrue year by year by

Today, new desktops at Novell are Linux desktops. They have canceled their
contracts with Microsoft for Windows desktops. And once again,
just was the case with the OOo migration, the tough problems are fed
back to appropriate developers for sizing and solving.

Hours, not days, for training

Training is always a topic of concern when Linux migration is discussed.
I asked Anderson how many days of training were required to convert
former Windows users to productive Linux users. She corrected me,
saying it's not a matter of how many days of training are required, but
how many hours.

The training consists of differences in usability; an understanding of
the differences between the Linux kernel and Windows XP is not required.
How to open and close windows, start and stop applications, and logging in
and out are the types of things being taught in Novell's migration

Additional help is available if needed, of course, and there are
reference cards available on the Internet to help users learn how to do
in OOo what they used to do in MS Office. Anderson said a part of their
intranet called "The Open Zone" contains additional information and a
FAQ to further aid employees when questions arise. She says that the
"The Open Zone" is the second most popular destination on their

Why do I think this is the big story of Brainshare 2005? Because
the repercussions from this migration are going to be felt far beyond
Novell's own corporate desktops. Because the process will uncover and
remove obstacles to migration as it goes forward. Because at the end of
the road, a path will have been blazed that other large corporations can

Anderson is the second Novell executive to tell me that there will be
other migration announcements made before Novell finishes its own.
Neither could or would say more than that, but it appears to me that
2005 -- finally -- is going to be the year of the Linux desktop's
arrival in corporate America.

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