Free Software Migration Experience: Kim Tucker
It all started
in the early 1990s when a friend of mine was experimenting with GNU/Linux (Slackware). At the time, I was too busy teaching computer science according to a set syllabus to really pay attention (pity!) but used free software for other things (mainly compilers for programming - C, lisp, Fortran, ...). Anyway, the vague awareness was there (e.g. of the w:Tanenbaum–Torvalds_debate).
Free software and science
My career took a turn into the world of conservation biology and environmental science. During those years I held onto my software background and in the mid-late 90s had a few boxes with GNU/Linux installed. In the environmental domain useful free software included GRASS, Apache and Tomcat for web applications, Minnesota MapServer, Octave, R, and other software developed by FAO, GBIF and others. See FLOSS4Science for updates. I unsuccessfully campaigned for free software within the organisation (CSIR) around that time but left it alone until 2003 when I joined the CSIR Open Source Centre. It was there that I first focused on free software adoption, migration and related challenges. My advocacy progressed from "open source" to "floss" to "free software" to "software libre" and "libre knowledge" evangelism).
Organisational Migration Challenges
Early attempts (late 90s) were hampered on account of my position in the organisation - an environmental scientist advocating free software for an organisation with corporate aspirations. A lone voice for free software in tune with the openness of science and freedom to innovate, against a culture driven towards corporate partnerships and "intellectual property" protection. "We need to be compatible with industry, and our clients use ...".
Open Standard Document Formats
Later, the strategic intent changed (from the top of the organisation) towards a free/libre and open source philosophy. The first step was to standardise on open document format for information interchange. OpenOffice.org was carefully deployed and relatively painlessly became the internal standard.
Whole-sale migration to a free software operating system on all desktops and servers proved more challenging. IMHO, the most important thing for an organisation to get right is the change management. People need to understand the rationale for the change and accept the principles (for an organisation of scientists that should be straightforward) before they can participate whole-heartedly in an organisation-wide migration. In this article, I describe only my personal challenges.
Personal Migration Challenges
For me FLOSS migration was easy, except for one thing: collaborative editing with scientists using proprietary software for document management and version control. I was stuck with dual boot for over a year while dependent on being able to use Novell's Groupwise DMS and to some extent Microsoft Visual SourceSafe. One participant not using these was bad for collective productivity as the others were locked into those solutions and did not have the option to change.
Over time, as the organisation migrated to open standards, the problem became less of an issue and I nolonger needed dual boot (by then I was multi-booting with several distros, nowadays I use VirtualBox to keep an eye on distro progress). In terms of collaborative editing, there are many options available now, my personal preference being MediaWiki for most purposes.
Occasionally, we would give presentations at conferences and other events at which the projectors did not seem to be compatible with the standard drivers in our GNU/Linux systems. This is also less of an issue nowadays with xrandr in Ubuntu and considerable progress with device drivers development.
Currently I aspire to use only free software and usually start with Ubuntu or some other Debian-based distro without adding the non-free repositories. However, the collaboration issue raises its head from time to time and I have been known to use Skype on occasion.
Not too long ago (2010), I needed to check what users would see on an educational site when using Microsoft Internet Explorer. This can be done via Wine but one still needs a Windows license to use it legally. So, after a long time with no usable instances of this non-free operating system, I completed the installation. So, now I have it and could boot into it if needed (unlikely ... hope I don't need a password??).
As mentioned above, I like to keep an eye on the distro front and use VirtualBox. I usually have several virtual machines available to run distros of interest such as Debian, gNewSense, Fedora, Puppy, LinuxMint and others. Not all the software included with these distros is libre (some include proprietary hardware drivers and non-free browser plugins for example).
I still have dilemmas around Software as a Service (see Who does that server really serve?). On the one hand, one does not want to lose freedom in this sense, while on the other, one wants to reach as many people as possible, especially the non-converted. For example, I have been locked into GMail for many years and still have a Facebook account. I also use WikiEducator which could do better in terms of sharing learning resources which can be accessed and edited with libre software (see WikiEducator and Libre Software).
I am one of those who doggedly aspires to the freedom values espoused by Richard Stallman. For the foreseeable future I will continue to do so, and push the boundaries on the libre knowledge front (see Say Libre).