Migrating a Business to Linux — 1
At work we have three Windows 7 systems in the office. We also have several laptops with Windows. Windows 7 reaches end-of-life in 2020. The proverbial handwriting is on the wall — update to Windows 10 or migrate.
At work we provide basic computer repairs for customers. Much of the repairs include updating Windows 10. At work we have observed many times that updating Windows 10 is a nightmare, often requiring several days. The total time required is actually somewhat less — not much — but we like to go home in the evening rather than baby sit a computer that needs multiple reboots to update. There is something plain fundamentally flawed with the way Windows 10 updates. Oh, don’t forget that Windows 10 is now basically adware.
The owner of the business is not fond of Windows 10. The reality is at least one of those office systems will have to be updated to Windows 10 because of a steep reliance on QuickBooks. At work QuickBooks is used for the bookkeeping, payroll, and invoicing. There is no palatable alternative Linux based software, notably because of payroll and the need for updated and current tax tables.
Additionally, the office workers are non technical users. They are good people and competent at what they do, but they memorize how to perform tasks with the computers and do not understand how computers or desktop environments actually work. Changes to the office computers need to be carefully planned to accommodate such users along with training.
Nobody at work is looking forward to Windows 10.
Along with this challenge we recognized that none of the laptops we use in the field are encrypted. Laptops can grow feet. That is a security and business challenge we want to avoid.
After discussing this issue with the owner, we decided to start a slow and methodical migration of some systems to Linux, specifically Ubuntu MATE 16.04.
Using Linux in the business is not new. We use Proxmox (Debian), CentOS, and Ubuntu on our bare metal and virtual servers. I had installed Ubuntu MATE on our office demo machine as well as in the virtual machine I created to isolate business and personal work flows. Using Linux is new to the owner, who bought the business at the beginning of the year.
Being a small business, the owner participates in field work. Part of any transition is ensuring the new owner acclimates in a comfortable manner. While mocking Windows 10 updates is good for a few laughs, the reality is computers are tools — and Linux desktops have their own set of warts and blemishes. Migrating certain apps will be impossible. Alternatives need to be found. Real world usable alternatives and not just geek and fan-boy solutions.
The first targets are the laptops used in the field by technicians and not office personnel. Any migration of the systems used by office personnel would be last on the list and long after the techs, owner, and I have tested other systems.
We will start with two laptops, shake down usability problems, and continue with the remaining laptops one-by-one. Along the way I will create partition images so we can install new systems or rebuild existing systems in an efficient manner.
I already have Ubuntu MATE images. At one time I considered installing systems for people who wanted to move away from Windows. These Ubuntu MATE images are streamlined because although Ubuntu MATE comes with less bloat than mainstream Ubuntu, there remains significant bloat. I also configure the desktop environment to remove typical geek design choices.
The new owner wants to adapt my idea for the business. He wants me to configure a “training” computer that can be loaned short-term to prospective customers to test if they might like a Linux based system. So those images I have been maintaining will serve well, although they need some tinkering to achieve two different business goals.
Also planned is building a dedicated Linux workstation for the office. Only the technical users will use that system and not office personnel.
Later we will migrate the owner’s preferred Windows 7 system from Outlook to Thunderbird. After the owner acclimates to Thunderbird we will install a second disk so he can dual boot with Ubuntu MATE. After more acclimating, we will virtualize Windows 7 using raw disk access so he always has a familiar way of doing things in Windows as he learns Linux and MATE.
This will be a long project, taking months. I hope to share the journey. This will not be a fan-boy journey. There will be real-world challenges both with user training, specific apps, and work flows.