Canadian enterprises tout open source success stories

TORONTO — Linux is very easy to use, and the idea that the open source operating system is a command-line driven environment is a misconception, executives told the LinuxWorld Expo on Wednesday.

Speaking at an IBM panel called “An Open Discussion on Open Source” held during the

LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, consultant and author Marcel Gagne said he runs Linux on his Compaq notebook and added that many people are beginning to look at Linux on the desktop as well.

“Linux has already won the server wars,” said Gagne, who also writes the “Cooking with Linux” column for Linux Journal. The desktop is the next frontier, Gagne said.

Pioneer Petroleums LP is one company exploring that frontier. The independent petroleum retailer with 150 locations across Ontario has been using faxes and phone calls to communicate with its remote locations and decided it was time for an upgrade. The company wanted real-time messaging and decided it was time to place a PC in every retail location. But it didn’t have the funds to hire staff to support the PCs. Pioneer wanted a solution that could be centrally managed, said Dale Sinstead, director of information systems and technology, and that usability and reliability were also key concerns.

The company decided to deploy IBM Lotus Workplace Messaging running on Red Hat Linux because Linux gave it the ability to lock down client desktops so that the remote users could not download unwanted material, Sinstead said.

Employees can easily change the administrative password on a Microsoft Windows, he said.

Gagne agreed and pointed to the Honeypot Project. According to that study — which left unprotected but patched Linux and Windows machines on the Internet — it took about three months to hack into a Linux box. Windows boxes were compromised in a matter of minutes.

Using Linux on the remote sites allowed Pioneer to steer clear of all of the administrative problems associated with Windows, such as dealing with malware, he said. “The Windows operating system is exploited a lot more.”

Users have access to e-mail, calendaring and scheduling, instant messaging and e-learning. Presence awareness is also built into the system. Pioneer uses Domino LDAP for authentication and can do all the administration on the machines remotely, Sinstead said. So far, Pioneer has deployed the Linux desktop at 25 locations.

The first question employees at the remote locations asked was usually why the company wasn’t using Windows, he said. But it was a short learning curve, he said.

Pioneer continues to use Windows XP on the desktop at the head office and has no plans to change. There is no need to migrate, Sinstead said, as the IT team is right there.

The main office and remote retail locations have had no problems exchanging documents, he said. All the Linux machines are set to default save word and spreadsheet documents as Microsoft Word and Excel files, he said.

Another Linux user speaking at the panel, the Harbourfront Centre, has long been using open source solutions but still deploys Windows on the desktop. The not-for-profit culture centre has long had to come up with solutions that required no capital expenditure, said George Rodaro, the centre’s IT director. For two years, it ran its e-mail server on old boxes running Linux and using Sendmail.

The organization recently received some government funding and upgraded to IBM eServer Blade Centre. It runs Red Hat Enterprise Linux on the back end and Windows on the desktop.

— Illustration by Robert Carter

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