Jack Wallen's new phrase for consultants working for small businesses - Linux can do that. The days Microsoft-only offices is coming to an end as Linux has reached the point where it not only can work in the SMB environment, it belongs in the SMB environment.
Due to a recent change I am re-entering the world of consultancy. Because I have the luxury of making this re-entry slowly (and possibly joining a local firm), I am taking my time and doing a little shadowing with a few that will wind up being co-workers. While on these shadow calls I am watching and, in a pinch, helping. Many times what I am seeing is putting a "I told you so"-like smile on my face.
Let me explain.
The clients we work with represent the majority of the real world. These are mom and pops to small businesses who'd rather spend their dollars on things OTHER than IT. But when problems arise, they have no choice. Now, like I said, these aren't Fortune 500 companies that have the budget to retain a fully-staffed IT department and can shell out the shekels for support contracts from Microsoft, Adobe, Dell, IBM, HP, etc. These companies are lucky to have workstations running the same version of the operating system that helps them get their work done.
Instead of tidy server racks they have plastic shelves barely holding up a mix and match of desktops and servers. They are slowing coming around to understanding the importance of standards and continuity, but have to purchase continuity one piece at a time.
But these clients are loyal and pay the bills. And, of course, these clients all rely on Microsoft. Or so they think they do.
The interesting aspect of shadowing is that I can take mental notes and make internal comments without anyone knowing. And on some of these jobs the most popular of internal comments is:
Linux can solve that.
During the short time I have been working with these clients, I have quickly come to see that, at least in the cases I have worked with, they are doing nothing proprietary to Microsoft. What I mean is that everything they do can be done with Linux. And in most cases, done easier and cheaper. Take for instance this little conversation:
"Can we all have the same version of Word?"
"Yes, but we'll have to purchase the licenses for you."
"I don't think we can afford another license right now. It's really a pain trying to share documents this way...is there any other way?"
All the while I sat in the background, biting my tongue. What I really wanted to say was this:
"We can re-vive all of your aging hardware by putting Linux on the machines and then install new versions of software that would serve the same purpose your aging software does - only do it better."
Of course the firm would make money for all of the installation/setup work. And the payback would be the happy customers who would most likely refer others to us. Would we possibly lose a few dollars due to lesser run outs to these clients (you know, viruses, malware, etc)? Sure. But when you weight a satisfied, rarely seen customer over a frustrated, frequently seen customer the scale quickly tips to your favor. That frustrated customer could, at any minute, turn to another consultant. That satisfied customer? You have them for life. This of course could be called The Maytag Repairman Corollary. But I digress.
Ultimately, what I am seeing is proof that there is, indeed, plenty of places for Linux in the business. And not only on the server end. The argument that Linux is too difficult has washed away, and any member of the IT world who still believes Linux is too difficult, might want to return to Comp Sci class for a refresher course. In my current incarnation I have YET to come across a desktop operating system that was even remotely difficult. All desktop operating systems have reached a near-uniform level of simplicity.
There was one issue that really hit home. For one call, all of the machines were using Windows XP, but only some were using XP Home. Because of this XP couldn't remember network credentials. While the lead guy was under stress to resolve this issue, I figured, "If Linux can do this, so can Windows XP." I figured the solution would resemble a Samba login from Windows. I was right. The problem was solved with the creation of a simple batch script (then added to the Start Up folder) that looked like:net use x: \\SERVER\SHARE PASSWORD /USER:USERNAME /PERSISTENT:YES
Although some Windows admins might not seem too comfortable with commands like this, they are second nature to Linux admins. So the solution was simple. Linux can do that.
Now, don't think me foolish. I know I am not going to switch a company who has based its business on maintaining Windows machines over to Linux. That's not my point. My point is that the only excuse for not adding Linux to the business environment (especially the SMB) is laziness. Linux belongs in the business. It can do the things Windows does and it can allow those smaller businesses to have the "latest, greatest" without spending their entire budget on something they can squeeze by without. So instead of making those small businesses do without, allow them to do with - because Linux can do that.