matter what your particular software needs, chances are that an
open-source program exists to meet them.
August 21, 2006
Consider yourself new to open source? Chances are, you're probably less of a novice than you think.
it comes to the servers that work tirelessly behind the scenes to bring
you sites like Yahoo or Google News, open-source software plays a huge
role. In fact, 60 percent of all sites run on the open-source Apache
Web server software, according to the August 2006 Netcraft.com Web Server Survey.
servers aren't the only platform where your nonprofit can use
open-source tools. There are a number of ways you can incorporate
open-source software into your organization's desktops as well.
matter what your particular software needs, chances are that an
open-source program exists to meet them. Below, we'll examine the
benefits and pitfalls of adopting open-source software on your
nonprofit's desktops, and show how you can move toward a complete
transition from Windows to a Linux-based open-source desktop.
you want to (legally) avoid software licensing fees or you're drawn to
the accessible, non-proprietary nature of open-source, there are many
compelling reasons to seek out open-source desktop solutions.
while it's possible to run a productive office with nothing but
open-source software, it's not always advisable. If your organization
relies on a particular Windows application, for instance, moving to
Linux doesn't make sense unless you can find software to replace it.
(While you can run Windows applications on Linux using CodeWeaver's Crossover products, it is typically easier and more stable to run software natively.)
however, you're not tied to any particular Windows software, you may
want to look into migrating all of your systems to Linux. Whether you
plan a full migration or just want to try out a few open-source
applications, it's best to take things slowly. Most users (and network
administrators, too) find it helpful to begin by introducing one or two
open-source desktop applications to the office. Once everyone is
accustomed to using these programs, you can safely shift to all- or
mostly Linux desktops.
Let's start with the easy stuff. With more than 200 million downloads to date, Mozilla Firefox
-- an open-source Web browser that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux --
is gaining a larger share of the Web-browsing market worldwide.
Some of Firefox's advantages over the current versions of Internet Explorer (Windows) and Safari (Mac):
One downside to Firefox is that
some Web sites use proprietary technologies that only work with
Internet Explorer. Fortunately, Internet Explorer and Firefox can
coexist peacefully on the same Windows computer, allowing you to switch
back and forth between them. However, if your organization uses a
critical Web-based application, such as a donor management tool or a
time-tracking solution that requires Internet Explorer, you won't be
able to migrate to Linux on the desktop until you've resolved that
, the lesser- known cousin of Firefox, is a respectable open-source
email client that supports POP3 and IMAP for retrieving mail, SMTP for
sending, and both SSL and TLS for keeping things secure. Thunderbird's
built-in spam filter has earned the program a good reputation for
helping to keep junk mail at bay. Although this requires some training
on your part (by marking miscategorized email as Junk or Not Junk)
Thunderbird learns quickly.
Best of all, Thunderbird, like
Firefox, works more or less the same way on Mac, Windows, and Linux.
This means that once you transition from, say, Microsoft Outlook to
Thunderbird on Windows, you'll have relatively little trouble switching
to Linux. One (potentially major) caveat: Unlike Outlook, Thunderbird
does not currently support calendaring or to-do lists. The Thunderbird
developers and their colleagues are working on a solution for this, but
it's been slow going for years now.
Yet Thunderbird isn't your
only open-source email option. If your organization uses Microsoft
Exchange for email, calendaring, and similar needs, open-source email
client GNOME Evolution
will serve as a satisfactory platform-independent alternative to
Outlook. Evolution receives commercial support from Novell and
community support from a well-regarded group of software developers.
Evolution only runs well on Linux and Outlook only runs on Windows, you
may have trouble switching from Outlook on Windows to Evolution on
Linux. Development on Windows and Mac versions of Evolution continues,
however, so be sure to check back in a year to see where things stand.
people are drawn to Outlook for its smooth integration of email,
calendaring, and task lists. Others feel that Outlook's failure
to adhere to standards, security problems, clunky interface, and
behavioral oddities outweigh its advantages. Yet whether you love it or
hate it, Outlook's platform-dependent nature can be restricting. Even
its Web-accessible interface, Outlook Web Access, makes only a minor
effort at cross-browser compatibility: Many Outlook tasks can only be
done with Internet Explorer on Windows.
If your organization requires platform-independent Web access, The Horde Project
— which offers open-source email, shared calendaring, task lists,
contact management, and more — may be just the ticket. While The Horde
Project software is free, it runs on the server side, so make sure your
IT staff or ISP can support Horde.
if you've been able to avoid using Outlook, chances are that you're
tied to other major components of Microsoft Office like Word and Excel.
Fortunately, there's an open-source, cross-platform alternative: OpenOffice.
This office suite runs well on Windows and Linux and carries out the
same basic tasks as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. OpenOffice will even
open and save simple documents in Microsoft Office formats, making it a
good solution for Windows and Linux users working with basic everyday
documents. However, if you frequently process complex Microsoft Office
documents, use a Mac, or use macros, you may want to stay away from OpenOffice for now.
Databases are where open-source solutions can get tricky.
specialized software many organizations use for fundraising and other
tasks that can limit their choices in terms of which database they can
use — often to a Microsoft Access or another Windows-only solution.
if your organization is new to databases and you have an expert on hand
to help you set one up, an open-source database can be a good solution,
even on a Linux machine. OpenOffice Base is designed as a work-alike to Microsoft Access, and should be fine for those with simple needs. Alternatively, open-source MySQL and PostgreSQL
are two open-source platform-independent databases, but require
considerable technical expertise to deploy and maintain and are beyond
the scope of desktop use.
article offers a basic overview of how a nonprofit organization might
deploy open-source on its desktops, yet there are plenty of additional
online resources online to help you find software, migrate, and deploy open-source solutions. Nonprofit consultants and volunteers may also be available in your area to help your organization transition to an open-source desktop.
you decide to do — be it trying out an application or two or a full
migration — open-source software can be an easier, less expensive
alternative to proprietary desktop solutions.
About the Author:
Copyright ©2006 CompuMentor. This work is published under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.