Linux optimize

Why Linux is a perfect fit for charities and non-profits

Linux and charity go hand in hand. From cost savings to reliable computing environments, Linux fundamentally belongs in non-profits. Jack Wallen champions the cause of providing Linux solutions to organizations in need.

I have a friend who works for an art therapy institute that is run by the city I live in. That foundation has taken donations for quite some time, is (obviously) not for profit, and all of their computers are Linux computers. Why? It doesn't hurt that their sole IT staff member is a big Linux fan (and understands how the FOSS operating system can help the organization in more ways than just budgetary). But after chatting with this friend for a while about his job, I understand very clearly how Linux and open source can really benefit charities and non-profit organizations.

It all begins with cost. Okay, yes Microsoft will give their operating system away once you've taken the time to prove you are who you are and you meet the right status (according to their guidelines). But once you get beyond the operating system, you then have to consider all of the other applications that must be put in place:

  • Anti-virus
  • Anti-malware
  • Office suite
  • Financial tools
  • Monitoring and/or NAC tools

And much more. And again, charities can more than likely score software titles to aid in the above tasks, but are they going to, yet again, have to prove who they are, fill out the right forms, and do the right dances? Probably (unless they are downloading the free version of said software that doesn't have all the features the paid version has). And what about the hardware? You know most charities aren't running the latest greatest. In fact, most of the charities I come across are running white-box machines that couldn't run Windows 7 if their electronic lives depended upon it.

So...what should charities do? Those organizations that are so budget-strapped that they aren't sure if their doors will remain open if they have to divert a single penny in the wrong direction? They should turn to Linux. And, like my friend in the art therapy organization, many of these organizations (from churches, to missions, to animal rescues. and more) are feeling the belt-tightening more than most in this economy, and they need to find relief somehow. One of the easiest forms of relief is turning to FOSS. Outside of the financial issues, there is one issue that you can not overlook when it comes to charities and Linux:

Linux cares.

Is that such a crazy statement? In the world of heartless IT where it all boils down to whether or not the servers have backed up, if the TCO is low enough, if the employees can do their jobs efficiently...does it count to have a heart? Take a look at this site: Linux Against Poverty. LAP is an annual computer drive/install fest that aims to provide Linux-based PCs for impoverished children in Texas. Charitable organizations like these are all over the place. And you can find Linux (or FOSS) at their hearts.

This only makes sense. Linux relies upon the charity of developers across the globe. Yes, there are developers out there getting paid to code for the open source champion, but the vast majority of development done for Linux is done via charitable contributions. So Linux, as a whole, has a fundamental understanding and strong kinship with charities. So Linux gets "need".

But why would a charity want to migrate from a known to an unknown entity? How would they benefit? Well, they would benefit in the same way users would:

  1. Zero cost of ownership.
  2. No third-party software (such as anti-virus or anti-malware) required to protect machines.
  3. Stable, secure platform.
  4. Lesser hardware requirements.

To name a few.

Think about it this way:

Soon Windows XP is going to go the way of Windows 98. When that happens it is going to become a challenge for charity-based, non-profit organizations to find willing donations of hardware that will run the current iteration of the Windows operating system. Without having Windows XP to fall back on, what choice do they have? How can they resurrect that hardware given to them by an individual (or company) when it doesn't meet the minimum requirements for Windows? Simple: They turn to Linux.

And for anyone that is going to chime in and say those organizations will not be able to make use of this "unknown entity," I say to you, use a modern release of Linux and tell me just how steep the learning curve is? It's not. We have finally reached the point where, to be quite frank, an operating system is an operating system is an operating system. They work very similarly: You point, you click, you work. Sure some of the names are different and the GUIs are built a bit differently...but the fundamentals are fairly standard throughout.

Linux and charity have, since the inception of FOSS, gone hand in hand. At it's heart, the Linux community understands what it's like to depend upon donations and wants to return in kind. But where do YOU come in? Many charity-based organizations aren't currently benefiting from Linux simply because they don't know of its existence. You can make a huge difference for one (or many) of these organizations by going in and educating those groups to the benefits of Linux. Introduce them to FOSS and show them how it can be easily put in place to help lower their cost of operation. You might have to hold their hand as they make the migration, but in the end everyone will be better for your efforts. And, if you need more incentive, you can probably write off your time as a donation for tax purposes. You see...everyone wins.

Do you know of a charity that could benefit from Linux and/or FOSS? If so, share it with your fellow TechRepublic members so maybe an initiative could start up to aid that organization in need. These grass-roots efforts make a huge impact on society.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

29 comments
bdoors
bdoors

We at Free Geek accept computer donations, refurbish them, and get them to people who may not have easy access to computers otherwise. We find Linux an excellent fit, due to the reasons in the article, plus -- 1. Linux doesn't lock to a specific hardware configuration upon install. This gives us greater flexibility in software installation and distribution. 2. Installing Linux installs its bundled apps as well. We don't have to install the OS, then spend time installing a series of apps (or buy a site distribution licenses like a for-profit corporation would to do to install by imaging). 3. Our computer recipients have access to over 10k free apps from the large Ubuntu repositories. They can download any app they might need for free. Unlike some of the posters, I don't see any reason to put-down either Windows or Linux. It just so happens that for our particular needs, Linux is a better fit.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Anyone who believes Linux is immune from any malware is dreaming. Let alone just how secure Linux is. RedHat's web site was recently hacked. As for cost, few charities know that most large companies offer large discounts on business related software. One web site specializes in selling massivly discounted software to charities exclusively. You also have an issue with software. Majority of charity based software will run on Windows. Jack also fails to remember that the older the system is, the increase the likeliness that there will be hardware problems and it's easier to find a CPU for a Core i3 than an old Pentium system. Do you continue to put money in an antique? Linux systems have a tendency to require an "upgrade" every couple of years as the distro becomes unsupported. Windows has support guaranteed for 10 years. As well, everry manufacturer makes drivers for Windows. For Linux? Not as much. Mostly workarounds to get a partial full-feature usage. Then there is support. You can find plenty of Windows support people to assist Windows users [at different experience and price levels]. Linux? A small charity could use Linux but larger ones make supporting it more difficult.

jsbeam
jsbeam

I work with several non-profits that have offices overseas. They can not afford to buy windows/office legally, they can not export their own overseas and often (in Argentina for example) its actually quite difficult to FIND a legal version. So if an office here is supporting say few Haitian orphanages, they can install linux OOo and off they go all legal.

jacobus57
jacobus57

I don't think I or anyone else here is an MS "fanboy" (or fangrrrl), and I know the stories of solid Linux servers and flaky Windozes boxes, but I have also seen the inverse. I loathe MS, but one really does need to look at the TCO on Linux, ESPECIALLY for very small, minimally supported organizations. It is absolutely true that most "techs" don't know what to do with Linux, let alone your average volunteer tech bear. If one has any experience working deskside support, then you know that moving a freaking icon on a Windoze desktop sends the average user into high dudgeon. Moving to KDE or Gnome has the potential to induce a massive infarction. And really, if you do overcome these hurdles, who is going to sit down with the once-a-week volunteer who prints labels, or whatever, to show them how to do the task they have learned to do in Windoze, with new icons, menus, etc. Get donations of XP machines for the one-5 seat churches and mom-and-pop NPOs. Wipe and reload, take out the crap, and ANY box that is relatively healthy can run a properly tuned install. And BTW, Linux is NOT going to salvage an old machine with a failing PSU, HDD, blowm system board caps, etc. The box will still die, Linux or not.

jacobus57
jacobus57

...and I have worked at, and currently consult for, many NPOs. I would NEVER recommend Linux as a solution, even though I do recommend and deploy FOSS as often as possible, especially as replacements for image manipulation, DBs, and utilities such as PDF reading and FTP. NPOs struggle as it is, and often rely heavily on volunteers, and it is a waste of good productive time to migrate someone to Linux. Using TechSoup as a vendor, I can set up a 25-seat office for under 2K, from the server up. Why would I torment my end-users with a completely different environment to save them some money upfront, but potentially cost them huge sums down the road. I will not be their consultant forever, and most consultants know nothing about how to deploy, let alone support, a Linux desktop. BTW, by first and ONLY distro choices would be either Mint (built on Ubuntu but so much better) or Trisquel, which is FSF certified.

suplero
suplero

I work at a startup college, where we do our own IT. I was able to set up my Linux laptop to print everywhere within 3 minutes without adding any drivers, while the Win7 machines took almost 30 minutes including finding and downloading drivers, and Macs can't even get drivers....

TNT
TNT

Linux can be a great platform for non-profits especially for religious organizations that do not qualify for TechSoup or Microsoft discounts. Even so, there are a couple caveats. The first is that the organization has minimal or no IT infrastructure in place. My first IT gig was at a religious non-profit with 50 employees and Linux wasnt (at the time) a good fit for their existing infrastructure. Their call center had phones interfaced with Windows PCs and servers for automated call distribution, credit card processing and customer service databases. Linux didnt offer a unified communication and customer service package and, if even it had, would have been too costly to switch over to. The problem for most users/organizations isnt getting started with Linux, its staying with Linux. Setting up a new printer (even if drivers exist) or a network isnt as easy for the novice as it is under Windows. So my second caveat for Linux being a great alternative is this: Its great as long as you have one IT person/group providing the hardware, setting up the infrastructure and providing overall planning and implementation. Ive helped many small and start-up churches around Denver get started with free computers running Ubuntu and OpenOffice. I pre-load browser favorites to include helpful sites for everything from learning the basics of their new OS to free tools for sermon preparation and research. In the right situation, Linux is a great and cheap alternative to mainstream IT solutions as long as you keep in mind these two factors.

kaninelupus
kaninelupus

as in its current status, an honest "no" is actually impossible. For example, if I posed the question: [b]Would you benefit from getting Chickenpox?[/b] the following would have to answer "Yes": *a - anyone who's immune system would now prevent future infections from Chickenpox *b - anyone who would receive paid sick-leave *c - a student who not only gets time off school, but a reprieve on homework *d - anyone isolated from an irritating family member, co-worker, etc *e - those suffering from Munchausen Syndrome, who now have a REAL illness to take to the doctor! *f - any or all of the above... To make the point, anyone answering from such an ambiguous survey question, who in [b]anyway[/b] gains even a single benefit (even if overall would NOT benefit) would actually have to tick "Yes". Now don't get me wrong; although a Windows user myself, I am not some apologist and I do honestly see the value in both Linux (particularly SUSE) and open-source in general. I'm also a realist that believes any individual or organisation needs to look beyond the "free" tag to see if ANY particular system is indeed the right fit for them... if that indeed leads them to Linux (in any of its flavours) then great... just make sure it is for the right reasons

parnote
parnote

zdeenet: We all applaud you for successfully navigating all the hoops one has to jump through to prove non-profit status. We applaud you for having access to the latest computers that are capable of running that bloatware called Windows 7. But the reality of the matter is that exceptionally few charitable, non-profit organizations can afford that, relying instead on donations of older computer equipment from whatever source they can get it from. Face it: Linux runs better on a far wider assortment of hardware, new and old. Add in the fact that there is virtually no cost associated with the OS itself, plus almost all the applications are freely available, and the fact that anti-virus software is typically not needed on a properly set up Linux box, Linux is hard to beat. And, despite how ridiculously, crazy-low the prices are for the Windows software (after you manage to successfully navigate the minefields and jump through the hoops to prove that you are a charitable, non-profit organization), you simply cannot beat FREE as a price.

alistair.k
alistair.k

Microsoft gives free and cheap software to certain charities and NFP. I know, I am on a cheap deal with MS. I have an Ubuntu machine on my desk right now as an evaluation. What you are missing is that to convert our entire infrastructure onto a FOSS platform we will need to find and configure all the automation tools we have spend maybe 10 years getting in place with MS. Assuming I have the resource to do this there is no reason why we can't make the switch, but guess what, we don't have the resources. We are a small, busy, stretched IT Department. We only survive because we have all the MS automation tools working and working well. To start again from scratch with a whole new OS is a learning curve and a half! Its OK to say any good IT Pro should be able to pick up a new OS easy enough, but sure, if you are talking about maybe using a Notebook. But I have a clustered service user database with a coupe of million records in it. It is covered by high availability SLAs. It has hundreds of specific stored procedures and reports. All of which will need rewriting in a new FOSS language. All our developments in sharepoint... it can all be done but at a huge cost of consultancy or temp IT staff to backfill the day job while the team trains, develops, tests, etc. Don't assume all NFP and charity are just using a few desktop applications and have simple requirements. I forsee Cloud being our future more than FOSS. The cost of software is pretty much nothing to us. Its cost of the manpower to run on premise systems which hits our budgets.

ksarkies
ksarkies

Don't know what it would be but I have provided Linux (Ubuntu) to two non-technical users, and they have been very happy. Problems arose however with new hardware (printer) lacking Linux support, and desirable software running only on Windows. Interestingly recent Linux distros tend to have a Windows-like familiarity, whereas Macintosh OS/X can be rather frustrating for someone trying to move from Windows. I think Linux is very usable now for an organization that doesn't already have a high investment in Windows. As for support, any IT person worth their pay should be able to adapt to Linux. The only danger for them is that their workload demands are likely to decrease and threaten their job (from my own experience with Windows).

Justin James
Justin James

... that all of those apps you list are available on windows, for free, as open source. In fact, they are typically the exact same app that's available on Linux, for free, as open source. Reality is, if you want a true apples-to-apples comparison of the cost, you can't look any further than the base OS and perhaps the hardware. What's even more disingenuous, is the fact that Jack Wallen has written about many of these very same software packages (such as financial management) for the Product Spotlight area, so he can't even claim ignorance. There are plenty of things one can say that are positive about Linux, and plenty of negative things to be said about Windows, without resorted to deliberate omissions of known facts. In fact, for this particular article, I would have listed the following: * Lower base OS license costs * Potentially lower hardware requirements (depends on the desktop used, some of them seem pretty brutal and X is not exactly a resource saver) * No need to keep track of licenses (this is important in places without a formal IT department) to stay in the legal clear * Easily accessed library of free applications (note that Windows also has these apps, but not nearly as "on demand" as a good *Nix distro does) * A CLI-only mode for ultra low hardware scenarios (well, you can get this on Windows server, but that's another price league entirely) * Open source server tools tend to work a little smoother on *Nix than Windows (PHP's install without WebPI isn't fun on Windows, a lot of Web apps I've seen assume you are using *Nix and need some mods to work right on Windows, like Drupal, etc.) * Wide variety of pre-configured VMs and "applicances" to be common back office needs like email, DB, etc. See how easy this is? I am a long term Windows user, and I can provide a good selection of factually accurate, compelling reasons for a charity (or a small business) on a budget to choose *Nix over Windows. J.Ja

Slayer_
Slayer_

Afterall, Nix pros cost lots more than Win pros.

pgit
pgit

..to a few non-profits. The people there don't even think about it, they just do their work, it gets done, everybody is happy...

zdeenet
zdeenet

Yes, I agree that open source is generally a great solution, especially for nonprofits or small organizations. However, I don't think the representation of the requirements to get Microsoft's software at a reduced cost is entirely fair. I run a nonprofit organization and use the website Tech Soup to identify software companies (and hardware too!) that offer heavily discounted prices for nonprofits. Generally you only have to go through the vetting process with Tech Soup and can then purchase software / hardware through them without jumping through any additional hoops. With my (very very) small organization I have been able to purchase several licenses of Win7 32 / 64 as well as full-blown MS Office and Adobe CS for crazy-low prices. Not to dispute the value of FOSS but at the same time I wouldn't want to look down at the support of Microsoft, Adobe, and other companies that are generously providing their software at prices that sometimes cover only the cost of shipping. If nonprofits are interested in Tech Soup (they should be!) you can check them out at TechSoup.org

TNT
TNT

However often I get boxes that are wiped and come with no original install disks. To get a legal copy of XP costs money, and often that is one thing a small/startup church does not have. Usually the "office staff" consists of the pastor and his wife who have more time to figure things out than money to lay out. Often times these churches are Asian or Spanish speaking as well. As of yet I've no complaints from any of them I've outfitted and I've been doing this for years. But you are right, Windows is expected in most organizations and often when those churches grow to the point they need a network, often they replace their Linux box with Windows PC's.

j-mart
j-mart

1 Debian stable really means stable. Ubuntu is built from Debian testing. Debian only becomes stable, not based on a time frame, but only when it meets quality standards. 2. Setting up Debian requires a small effort to learn how to do it, but set up for the task it will be easy for the user to perform the tasks they need it for, hard for them to screw up and easy maintenance. 3. Same OS good for server. 4. Not a good gaming OS, but as work is for work this is an advantage The only downside is that there are applications required for some tasks that only work on Microsoft OS's but it is no big deal to run Debian servers and desktops along with the odd Microsoft desktop where needed for the most cost effective solution. There are other options such as BSD which would also do the job, but upon coming across Debian, and finding it does what I want I have been a bit lazy and not bothered to look at all the options.

j-mart
j-mart

For it to be more cost effective than the Linux alternative. Linux set up properly is very low maintenance, the same could be said of BSD. I have an old P2 machine set up as a firewall-router that has performed faultlessly for about 4 years with little maintenance required. Machine and OS at no cost, an hour or so to set up, and no problems. Only time machine has been off was when I turned it off to move it to another area.

pgit
pgit

You're either a brave man or a glutton for punishment. Drupal drove me nuts to where I gave up on it and swore never to return. This was pre-packaged to install on a Linux system no less. The thought of attempting it on windows... I agree, and will emphasize, that licensing is huge in this equation. Usually it's the only thing I have to bring up before the client OKs the Linux project. I'm aware that most people don't understand microsoft licensing, and I'm quite often able to get folks to see that they are in fact violating their EULAs in one way or another. One big licensing factor I've come up against is when a growing small business gets their 11th Dell special of the day, with the "home premium" license. Things stop working on the network and they can't for the life see anything wrong with the systems. I might as easily tell them "they killed Kenny!" to get the same reaction. A Linux file and maybe print server takes care of that one.

j-mart
j-mart

Has no trouble getting the best out of any OS and getting the best solution for a customer's requirements. Being only able to confidently supply only Windows solutions is an indication of not being up to much.

cadstarsucks
cadstarsucks

licensing fees small NOT FREE. new hardware NOT FREE maintenance NOT FREE, I should probably try to find link about the Linux network server article that ran for YEARS accidentally sealed up in a wall WITHOUT CRASHING! I personally would call that FREE! MS's nick might as well be MicroCRash as MicroCash!

lastchip
lastchip

I just love Debian stable. I use it on my own production desktop and on servers too. Superb quality system.

Justin James
Justin James

Drupal: Never. Again. I did it once and I'm never touching it without a massive check backing the effort. Licensing: Yup, that's the kind of issues I'm talking about! I've seen that "11th PC" issue before too, it makes you want to cry, it's not exactly advertised on the box and someone on a budget just wasted a ton of money. Of course, going to a Professional license doesn't fix it either, the only thing that does is buying a server license... but then all of the Home editions need to be swapped for Professional editions... :( J.Ja

DrBort
DrBort

supports Windows. The vast majority of enterprises - like 90% - have Windows infrastructures. Just because you're not as proficient on Linux as Windows doesn't mean you're a bad IT guy, it means you are where the demand is.

Slayer_
Slayer_

But seriously, how could it require less. If its one building, thats one guy, if its two building spread far apart, you might need two guys. If its multi national, it will require an army of IT. Makes no difference which OS they use. Might make a difference on work loads, but thats about it.

j-mart
j-mart

Doesn't limit themselves by only being comfortable with one technology. For any tech to be any good, becoming reasonably proficient with the UNIX-like OS's is part of the job. A technology suitable mind, some effort, a bit of googling and you are there. You will then be able to make better technology deployment decisions and add to your value in a tough market. UNIX is a well designed and logical OS, so learning you way around UNIX and the various clones should not be a big deal for a tech. For some though, going by the excuses that are put up as regards to becoming more familiar with these OS's you would think they are being asked to thread a camel through the eye of a needle.

apotheon
apotheon

1. There are more open source OS deployments than it appears there are on paper. 2. There are actually quite a few sysadmin and netadmin jobs out there that never touch MS Windows. 3. Being proficient with open source Unix-like OSes doesn't mean you don't know anything about MS Windows. 4. Any admin who is so narrowly focused on MS Windows that he cannot survive as an admin of Unix-like systems doesn't really know his job -- he just uses rote memorization to make up for a lack of understanding. Real understanding involves understanding principles that apply everywhere -- not just remembering where to find a listing of AD resources, or how to define a schema object.

apotheon
apotheon

While it's true that a single parish church typically only needs one admin, the assumption that you never need more than one admin per building is a little naive. NOCs typically have as many as a dozen admins on duty at a time, for one datacenter -- and they usually don't even have to support any desktop end-users. . . . and an Exchange server really requires its own admin for any nontrivial usage.