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Migrating Away From Windows: It All Starts With Linux

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Whenever a person or business is thinking of migrating away from Microsoft Windows to Linux, or to FreeBSD, OpenSolaris, or some other FOSS operating system, the two most important considerations are:

1. Take the long view. The idea is to build a sustainable, future-proof computing infrastructure.

2. It all starts with the operating system. Sure, there are a lot of wonderful FOSS applications that run on Windows, such as OpenOffice, Firefox, Audacity, Pidgin, Thunderbird, Gimp, and many more. But that doesn't address the fundamental flaws of the Windows OS; it's like using more and better dung polish.

Taking the Long View

Windows is the lamprey eel of operating systems. Lampreys are parasites with toothed, funnel-like sucking mouths. They attach themselves to bigger fish and live off their blood. Eventually the host fish weakens and dies, and then the lamprey finds another victim.

Windows is evidence that an awful lot of people have awfully high pain thresholds. They'd rather struggle every day with its shortcomings and expense than invest some energy in making some good changes. It's like going through life all crippled and sickly instead of making some changes and getting healthy, because it's too much trouble or too scary to change.

There are substantial barriers to migrating away from Windows-- by design. A tremendous amount of resources and energy are devoted to building and maintaining these barriers. But that's a short-term pain- once you're past the migration barriers it's a whole lot friendlier and freer computing landscape. Why give loyalty and money to a company that treats its customers so shabbily? I have friends who go nuts at the ice cream shop when they don't get enough colored sprinkles, but when it comes to computers they go all shy and stupid. "Awww, I don't mind wasting tons of time and money on this junk, it's just the way it is." The tech industry needs a whole lot more customer spunk and consumer rights advocacy. Get uppity, folks, it's for your own good.

It Starts With Linux

I think that any serious migration has to start with the operating system because jettisoning Windows solves a host of problems at once: security, malware, stability, configurability, customizing to meet your needs, insane EULAs and over-priced, overlapping, Byzantine licensing. I think Linux is the bee's knees, and FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, and OpenSolaris are all have their strengths and are worth investigating. There is whole huge better world outside of Redmond.

Some folks think that running FOSS applications on Windows is a good strategy. I am grateful for the wealth of wonderful cross-platform FOSS applications. These simplify managing mixed networks and serve as good migration stepping stones. I don't see this as a primary migration strategy, but a useful stopgap when you have to keep some Windows boxes around for whatever reason.

The pain of migration is directly proportional to the degree of proprietary lock-in. But there are no shortcuts-- the longer you wait the harder it gets. Some things are easy and can be implemented without a lot of hassle. Or you may be dependent on some crucial applications that have no FOSS equivalents. Again, take the long view-- why add to the weight of the shackles by continuing on the same course? Maybe there a FOSS application that is roughly equivalent to your crucial app, but it needs more developers and documentation writers. So don't sit there crying-- give them some help. That's the beauty of FOSS: if it doesn't exist or needs some help, just roll up your sleeves and pitch in. You'll get there a lot quicker than waiting for the robber barons of tech to have a change of heart.

It takes a lot of planning and thinking to have a good migration. Oh I know, in these modern times it is not fashionable to think, or to learn new things, or to acquire actual useful skills. But if anyone with the fortitude to be unfashionable and take control of their own computing infrastructure will reap big rewards. Just think how good it will feel when there are no more lampreys.

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