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:
- 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:
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:
- Zero cost of ownership.
- No third-party software (such as anti-virus or anti-malware) required to protect machines.
- Stable, secure platform.
- 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.
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 jackwallen.com.