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Notes on Linux - Is it Ready for Primetime?

by Lisa Duke


IBM Lotus Notes isn't just an application for Windows - it also runs well on Mac and Linux desktops and laptops. But is the idea of Linux as a desktop operating system really viable? Can a mere user figure out the differences, or would a roadtrip with Linux on a netbook leave the average user in tears? I decided to find out. My adventure, and some conclusions, appear below.

The Backstory

I would venture to guess that the average line of business person NEVER thinks about Linux, so you may be wondering how this came to my attention. About two years ago, we were contacted by a partner to see if we could help them handle questions on "OCCS". My first question was, what the heck is that? Turns out, it's the"Open Collaboration Client Solution", which is just a complicated way of saying "Notes on Linux".

The sales staff at STS was confused. Linux wasn't just for servers? Notes works on Linux? The answers were yes and yes. Still, when we heard "Linux" we were imagining a command prompt, something scary and server-like that we'd never be able to use.

You can imagine our surprise when one of our technical people installed Linux on a laptop in our office. The first time it booted up, the sales team crowed around the laptop all said, "oh!". There was a friendly, easy to understand user interface. Sure, the color scheme was a little different, but it was simple enough to click on the familiar Lotus Notes or Firefox icons and take the laptop for a test drive.

This really piqued my interest. So, we could save money on operating systems and software? Less money spent on technology means more money for marketing in my mind, so I was ready to convert the whole company. Unfortunately, we realized most everyone on our team need applications that were available only on Windows, like QuickBooks for accounting, and so after we dutifully followed up on the leads from the partner, Linux came off the laptop and we went about our business.

A year later I got my first netbook. When I got it, I pointed out that all the objections to moving us away from Windows were irrelevant for this machine. I wouldn't be running QuickBooks or any other applications that were incompatible with Linux. I'd just be using the netbook for trips. I needed a way to respond to emails that were just too involved for my mobile device and to edit the occasional presentation. I'm sure Darren figured it was a phase and I'd be begging to go back to Windows in a week, but he set me up and I was off to the races.

The Reality

While I am around technology for a living, I'm more a geek groupie than a geek. I'll get excited about what's new when you tell me all the bugs are worked out and it can do something for me. And in a business setting, the two main things I'm interested in are making more money and saving money. So just being new or cool is not enough to get a blessing from me.

With that understanding, you should know my Ubuntu netbook running Linux works great. With the exception of one website I needed to visit from Lotusphere that was IE only, it's done everything I needed it to and more. I've yet to have to ask for help (and I personally still can't send faxes without calling tech support, so that's saying a lot). And no more lost productivity from Windows crashing.

So, is Linux on a client machine a reality from my perspective? Absolutely. Until old IE-only websites are rehabilitated and there are a critical mass of users on Linux pressuring application vendors to do alternate versions of their applications, there will be limitations. We can't in good faith recommend taking Linux enterprise-wide yet. But could it work for certain teams, or for certain use cases, like my travel netbook.

Will it catch on? Unfortunately one of the side effects of being free is that there's not much of a marketing budget. With Microsoft really dumping the money into Windows 7 marketing, it's unlikely a competitor will be able to beat them without the equivalent marketing funding. But for those in the know, it's free, it's easy, it's good, and it's a great geek magnet if you are trying to get attention at your local Starbucks.

If your organization wants to learn more about Notes on Linux don't hesitate to contact STS. I'll bring along my netbook when we come to visit you. And if you are in Chattanooga, TN, come hear Bill Malchisky, Mr. Lotus on Linux himself, present a more technical view of this topic. Details available here.

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