Golden on Linux: ODF vs. OpenXML, RHEL 5 and Linux adoption

In this tip, an open source software and applications expert explains why the OpenDocument-OpenXML debate doesn't matter and why Red Hat is the best Linux choice for businesses.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 should be on all businesses' evaluation list, if it's not already being deployed in their data centers, says consultant and author Bernard Golden. In a Q&A on today's key Linux issues, he compares Linux versus Windows costs, recommends a Linux management tool and puts the Open Document Format versus OpenXML debate in perspective. Golden is a SearchEnterpriseLinux.com resident expert, CEO of systems integration firm Navica Inc. in San Carlos, Calif., and author of Succeeding with Open Source.

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When making the switch from Microsoft desktops to open source desktops, how can IT shops contain training and support costs while maintaining quality?

Bernard Golden: Typical users usually don't have much problem moving to a Linux desktop, particularly a KDE-based one that looks a lot like a Windows desktop. The typical productivity apps (e.g., OpenOffice) are very simple to move to as well.

The major problems arise with so-called power users, especially those with complex Excel macros. I recommend that you start with a pilot set of users, perhaps 10 or 15, that reflect all types of users within the organizations. See how they do with migrating to a Linux desktop and base your practices on that.

For a company considering migration to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL 5), what are some of its strengths and weaknesses? How do the subscription fees compare to Microsoft Vista's licensing costs?

Golden: Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is the best-established Linux distribution for business use. It has the largest installed base, as well as the largest number of applications certified to run on it. There are also a high number of certified engineers that are available as consultants and employees.

On the other hand, RHEL is best-known as a server operating system and much less as a client platform. In addition, using RHEL also requires subscription fees although these are far less than Vista, particularly when you consider the hardware investment that Vista typically requires.

Do you think Dell's idea to pre-load Linux on PCs will increase adoption or will people stick with what's familiar (e.g. Windows)? How can they overcome the usual hurdles of driver incompatibility and hardware issues?

Golden: I think Dell pre-loading Linux will have a significant impact on Linux adoption, although not necessarily because so many end users comfortable with Windows will decide to switch. Rather, Dell's involvement will motivate many hardware manufacturers to make reliable Linux drivers available, the lack of which has significantly retarded the adoption of Linux by many individuals and organizations interested in trying out Linux.

By reducing the barrier of drivers and thereby enabling these trials, Linux will start to achieve some momentum, which will in turn increase its adoption rate. So, I applaud Dell for moving forward on this initiative.

Can you recommend some cross-platform open source systems managment tools for an IT shop that uses Windows and Linux?

Golden: Probably the best-known tool is Nagios. I would start there to determine if it fits the bill. If it doesn't, check the Nagios forums -- there will probably be discussions of other management tools there that will point you to more candidates.

What are the differences between OpenXML and OpenDocument? What difference does it make which format an IT shop adopts?

Golden: OpenXML is the file format Microsoft has proposed as a standard for document formats. Although offered by Microsoft as a standard, it has a strong Microsoft product bias. OpenDocument is a competing standard, sponsored by companies like IBM and Sun, without a bias toward any particular office product suite.

There are converters for both Microsoft Office and OpenOffice that will read/write both formats, so it's probably not critical about which you choose. Most open source-oriented people favor OpenDocument, as single vendor-sponsored standards typically end up favoring their products.

The challenge with converters tends to be how accurately they reproduce document formatting, so it's important to evaluate how well these converters might work for you, given your use cases. It's early days for these particular converters, and they'll undoubtedly improve over time.

Have a question or comment about the tip? Email us. And don't forget to visit our new blog, the Enterprise Linux Log.

This was first published in May 2007

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