Desktop Opportunities

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When security issues arise like Sasser and those now infamous over the last few years, it is once again an opportunity to talk to your customers, peers and prospects about desktop security. It is also an opportunity where the situtation is appropriate to present the Linux and OS X desktops as alternatives to Windows.

I will add a caveat here before I continue as this is another contentious issue. My goal is not to show Windows as a lousy system and open source as the only path to follow. Anytime a platform grows more popular, so will the security issues. Many of us know Linux is one of the most attacked systems in the world (that is attacked, not compromised). The same will be sure for Linux and OS X desktops – the viruses or at least attempts will surely come.

However, Unix-based systems have an advantage over Windows in their base architecture and vast array of open source and commercial tools for granular control over the server and desktop for security.

Furthermore, in much of my interaction with clients and other organizations, there were numerous users at every stop that could easily use a Linux or OS X desktop with moderate training and little or no disruption in process. This is due to what I call the trinity of standard users:

  • They use an Office suite
  • They use an email client
  • They use a web browser

With the proliferation of desktop tools on Linux, including Open Office (see the eWeek Labs real world review), Exchange-compatible clients for email and proven browser technology, these baseline staff are easy targets to train and convert to a non-Windows desktop and immediately start improving peripheral security issues. In addition, with Microsoft’s support for OS X, and Office X supporting Exchange server, a Mac desktop may be an even better idea for users where additional training is a financial concern.

Even better, Microsoft is deploying project management capabilities into Entourage (the Exchange-capable email client) in the newest release of Office for OS X.

To address the second tier of more sophisticated users is more of a challenge. In some cases, a Windows emulator may be an option, however, it also re-opens security issues found on Windows OS. Better is to seek out solutions which offer support for necessary apps as you plan any kind of conversion.

Two examples:

Mr Project, a Gnome-based Linux project management tool, offers the powerful planning capabilities of Microsoft Project and has efforts underway to complete an import tool for accepting MS Project files.

Microsoft continues to release schema information on XML support in their primary applications. This enables developers to leverage this data and import/export with applications like Word and Visio. Omni Graffle Pro offers the same powerful diagramming power of Visio on OS X for a vastly lower price, and includes Visio XML support – enabling files to go back and forth between users of these two packages. The Linux KDE desktop offers Kivio as a Visio-styled diagramming tool.

The considerations are process requirements – breaking down application use into groups of users from 1) easy to convert, 2) moderately difficult to convert and finally 3) nearly impossible to convert.

In one company I worked with, the first group above were the receptionists, customer service staff and communications department. They were easy converts to OS X due to Microsoft Office support, continued access to a CRM system that was web-based, and email access to Exchange servers.

It is the second and third group where much research and consideration be used to plan and architect potential desktop conversions which meet the needs of the users. As more complex applications are ported to browser-based access, this may become more of a reality.

Blane WarreneBlane Warrene
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