Finding open source and Linux-supporting software to replace proprietary applications isn't as hard as it used to be. In fact, there is no longer a shortage of non-proprietary business applications that support Linux, says Bernard Golden, CEO of Navica Inc., an IT consulting firm in San Ramon, Calif. To save IT managers some Google searching, he offers a few alternatives and some advice on finding application support in this Q&A.
Are the alternatives to Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer enterprise-ready?
Bernard Golden: The obvious open source alternative to Microsoft Office is OpenOffice. It is very workable for everyday users. However, documents (especially Excel) that make use of advanced macros sometimes don't work very well in OpenOffice, although it is much improved in the 2.0 version. You could look at that.
For apps that are written to work only with Internet Explorer, it's very tough to run them under Firefox or other open source browsers. You can test with Firefox and the others to see if there's compatibility.
Can you recommend open source software for administering a PBX?
Golden: The best-established open source PBX software is Asterisk, which is a fantastic piece of technology. It is available in many forms, including a version called Asterisk@home which you can burn onto a CD, load into a box and have a working Asterisk installation 30-60 minutes later. Asterisk@home comes with AMP, a graphical management interface and even SugarCRM, which it uses for contact management.
For IT managers who have difficulty installing software that is not part of the distribution, can you suggest a package that incorporates dependancies, prerequisites and kernelsources?
Golden: I feel your pain. It is a nightmare installing one package and getting the ever-recursive "missing XYZ package." You might check out Linspire/Freespire. I saw a demo of their product at LinuxWorld and their statement was that they deal with the dependency nightmare through their CNR capability.
For Windows shops that want to also use Linux, what is the best way to get started?
Golden: It is absolutely possible to run a mixed environment. Linux is often introduced into Microsoft environments as a file/print server. The best way to accomplish this is by use of the open source Samba product which drops into Windows environments very easily.
For users who want to replace certain apps like Microsoft's Access, what open source apps can you suggest?
Golden: App availability can be a problem on Linux. There are some open source accounting apps which you could look at to see if they meet your needs. Regarding migrating Access apps, you could take a look at Versora, which does some migration software and might address Access.
A different sort of solution is Wine (open source) or CodeWeaver's CrossOver (commercial) software, which enables Microsoft applications to run on Linux. I've used it and it does a good job.
How is it possible for an open source application to provide the support level offered by giants like Microsoft?
Golden: For many open source applications there are commercial entities that specialize in offering support for those products. Often, the support offered by them is superior to that offered by the big boys, because they are focused on that, while for the big boys, support is a necessary evil that is typically staffed by low-level personnel. Naturally, if one is going to consider purchasing commercial support, its quality should be assessed for the particular product.
Sometimes, installation packages don't seem to detect hardware, especially on laptops. What Linux distros provide wireless support?
Golden: Wireless cards and Linux distros are, perhaps, the number one complaint about Linux on the desktop (closely followed by power management). Both issues are being assiduously worked on by Linux desktop organizations.
There are three flavors of Linux that I have seen positive things written about regarding wireless integration: Ubuntu, SUSE and Linspire/Freespire. You might try one of those to see if it does better. Also, if you do some searching on the Internet, you'll find lots of information on this topic -- it relates to the chip type used in the various wireless cards -- which means some brands of cards work better, so you might need to track down a different card.
This was first published in September 2006