Friday, 29 June 2007

Linux in the Workplace: What the Users Think

When I wrote my first "Linux in the Workplace" post, Vista had just been launched. There were lots of articles popping up stating that Linux was not ready for the desktop (coincidence?). Having used Linux at home and in work I knew this wasn't true. So, I wrote an article to try and show that any modern distro is perfectly suitable for most people.

In the follow up, I discussed some ideas on how to help colleagues make the switch to Linux. I received an interesting response to that second article from Warner, which was the inspiration for this post.

Several colleagues of mine now also use Linux as their primary work desktop. In fact, we now have about a 50/50 split between (K)Ubuntu and XP users in our office. I wanted to get their views on why they use Linux and if they are happy with it. Hopefully the answers will be useful to others considering Linux. I asked everyone the same set of questions. So without further ado, here are their thoughts:

Q. What motivated you to try Linux?

Michael: The amount of time (that was) wasted developing and building my applications on a windows box.

Jeff: (I) had a problem with Wireless on Windows XP. Basically after new drivers were installed the machine was extremely slow and took 10 minutes to boot and get logged in.

Peter: Unreliability of Windows, desire to know more about using Linux and desire to support the open source software movement - In that order.

Sean: I have a mac and really like how reliable it is and I had the idea of trying to get a hacked version of osx onto my PC. When I saw how well linux (Ubuntu) worked I knew this would be a good alternative.

Paul: I initially tried Linux on the recommendation of others on the basis that it would be a more effective development environment. Additionally, the idea of trying something new which may eliminate some frustrations with Windows appealed to me.

Q. What did you think of Linux before switching?

Michael: I'd heard good things from a number of sources. Mainly from those with a development background. Faster development time, more "free" tools to help development. I'd heard a lot of cool apps that I'd like to take for a test drive.

Jeff: My first experience of Linux was at university around the mid 1990's. At that stage it seemed a lot more involved than windows was and it seemed as if you needed a lot more technical knowledge to be able to run it. I also remember thinking that it was all command line based whereas windows had a nice GUI.

More recently I had bought an old laptop and put SUSE 9.1 Linux on it and was very impressed with it. It was fairly straightforward to get it up and running and had a nice UI. I actually gave the laptop to my parents who have no computing experience other than surfing the web, email and some word processing and they have never had any problem with it. The switch for them from Windows was seamless.

Peter: I had the impression that it was not very user friendly and that it had hardly any support for MS file formats (both wrong). I was aware that it is vastly superior in performance and security.

Sean: I thought it was good, but I was wary of it because I thought there would be compatibility issues etc with software that I like and some hardware.

Paul: My impressions of Linux prior to switching over were that it would be more difficult to use and that only 'expert' users would be able to use it effectively.

Q. What concerns did you have about switching to Linux?

Michael: I feared that actually setting up a Linux box would require a lot of effort. I needn't have worried too much. I did have some problems which actually ended up requiring a new hard drive in my box. Once I had that it was plain sailing.

Also, I worried about integration with my existing windows apps. I've used a Windows box for developing on for over 10 years. I'm just used to all it's little quirks and what to do to get things done quickly.

Jeff: My only concerns really were that my wireless networking at home and in the office would work and that the software I use regularly would work or there would be a suitable alternative. I was concerned that there wouldn't be drivers for my wireless card etc.

Peter: That I wouldn't be able to interoperate with the Windows office environment. That it would be difficult to find support for issues I had.

Sean: It might not have the software packages in place for the things I need to do

Paul: My main concern when switching was that I would struggle to find a set of applications to replace the ones I was using on Windows. I thought applications would be hard to find, possibly 'buggy', and generally not as good.

Also, I thought any issues I would come across would be difficult to deal with, and answers would be harder to come by compared to any issues faced on Windows.

Q. What were the major issues you faced in Windows?

Michael: Just the 3 things, slowness, slowness and slowness. Recycling my build environment was just painful. Additional windows would decided to hang for some reason when opening Windows Explorer or going to save a file.

Jeff: The obvious ones were, viruses, spyware and the feeling that while I was online I could be open to attack. Also always having to keep up to date with the regular Windows Updates and keeping my virus checker and spyware software up to date. Plus the problem with the machine running slowly after the wireless drivers being updated.

Peter: Unreliability - Security updates killing my computer and applications causing the machine to hang. Also long startup times (bad for a laptop).

Sean: Security, pop-ups, slow when it gets fragmented, the list could go on.

Paul: On Windows, I had problems with the performance of the OS ie Windows XP. After having it installed for a while, even with anti-virus and anti-spyware software running, the OS became unbearably slow. Having to run anti-virus and anti-spyware software in the first place is a nuisance, and presumably contributed to the performance issues. Turning these off is obviously not an option as the machine would quickly become riddled with virus'! When running Windows I would generally re-install every 6 months or so to avoid these problems... which I don't really want to have to do.

Q. What are the major issues you have with Linux?

Michael: I rely heavily on Microsoft Outlook for email and calendar. It's very integrated with the Company's Exchange server. I still use my windows laptop for all non-coding tasks.

Jeff: I have had a few minor issues, but no major ones. Any minor issues have been very easily resolved with a quick look on the internet.

Peter: Integration with windows networks - especially domain credentials.

Sean: None as yet, a few applications that I would like to see available for linux would be the adobe/macromedia software suite. I would also like an iPhoto type application for linux.

Paul: The only real issues I've found with linux is the problems with drivers. It can be hard to find drivers for some hardware, and even when you do find them they can be a headache to install.

Recently I installed drivers for a USB ADSL modem. This involved about 10 minutes of editing files and running commands in the terminal... even now I still have to reboot the machine to reconnect when the connection drops... pain in the ****!

Not to mention ATI graphics cards...

However, I recognise that these problems are to do with the hardware companies not making Linux drivers.

Q. What do you miss most about Windows?

Michael: I live happily in the 2 worlds.

Jeff: I don't miss anything. Sometimes for work I need to test code using IE but using it is a necessity not a desire of my own.

Peter: Oddly, being able to cut/copy text from a Terminal Services window onto my local machine and being able to share local disk drives over a TS connection.

Sean: There is no denying that there is a huge wealth of apps available for the platform.

Paul: I'm surprised that I don't miss very much about Windows at all. The only thing that comes to mind is the installation of software. In Windows double clicking an .exe to run an installer is clearly easier than building from source, which seems unavoidable sometimes.

Q. What do you like most about Linux?

Michael: Speed

Jeff: That it just works and is so customisable. The amount of utilities that are available is awesome and it's so easy to install them. I was amazed by the "apt-get" and "dpkg" utilities and how they just worked. Plus I can have multiple desktops and use a separate desktop for each application.

Peter: The peace of mind that comes with Linux Security.
- Using Synaptic.
- Powerful Linux tools like grep.
- Useful tools like Parted, the disk usage analyser, CD juicer and creator.
- The ability to mount an NTFS partition to get access to windows files.
- Generally less of my application windows hanging.

Sean: Clean uncluttered OS, none of the annoying stuff that windows plagued me with.

Paul: There are several things that come to mind:
- No anti-virus/firewall/spy-ware.
- Greater confidence in the software I install.
- Greater control of the OS.
- It's free, and the software for it is generally free too!
- Community. There seems to be a greater community aspect when you are
looking for help on forums etc.
- It's not Windows.
- I'm not contributing to Microsoft.

Q. Any other info you would like to share?

Jeff: On one or two occasions I have found that I needed to perform tasks that seemed quite daunting, one example would be compiling the kernel in order to install a VPN client. However there is a wealth of information and HowTo's out on the net that it makes operations like this seem a little easier.

Sean: I think if Linux was used more in schools at a young age, we would see it really gather speed in development terms as the popularity would increase exponentially. Also, I know a few people that play PC games and this is their reason for using windows. Games on Linux is a long way off.

Paul: I now use Linux 100% both at home, and at work.

So there you have it! Those are the views of some Linux users in our office. I think it's fair to say they are pretty happy at the moment and have no intention of returning to a Windows desktop.

I'd like to thank all the people who took time to answer the above questions. I'm sure the information they provided will be useful to many.

My own views are pretty simple. An Operating System is just a tool to let me get things done. I use Linux because it's the best tool for the job. I make no pretense that the Linux desktop is perfect. It's not. However, it is damned good and much better than the alternatives i.e XP or Vista. (Macs are not an option in our office, yet)

Oh, and as for all those "Linux is not ready ..." articles, perhaps they should be renamed "Vista is not ready ...".


Warner said...

Thanks for the follow up Rory, I enjoyed it even more than the first.

I was really glad to see this post. I wish their were more switching experiences posted, although the number has been rising quickly, thanks Vista!


Steve said...

Great article.

Please tell Jeff that IE does run on Linux, using WINE. I use it on Ubuntu for webmail with a MS Exchange server (to get more functionality than under Firefox).

Theres a package called something like IE4Linux which lets you choose which version(s) to install.

Anonymous said...

rdesktop on Linux can forward local disk drives. I use that all the time. I'm not sure about cut and paste. Check out the command line options.

Rory Curtis said...


Thanks for the suggestion Steve. I believe Jeff needs to occasionally test web applications using IE7, so he uses VMWare for that.

Ecommerce web developers said...

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