Vancouver law firm trades in MS for desktop Linux

Vancouver boutique law firm Whitelaw Twining regards downtime with the kind of disdain reserved for something like a roach infestation at the Plaza Hotel – it simply won’t be tolerated.

“Completely unacceptable,” is how Richard Giroux, the company’s IT manager describes the level of downtime he’s seen at many other organizations. But while it wanted constant uptime, Whitelaw Twining, which focuses primarily on litigation and insurance law, didn’t want to spend a ton of money to get it.

“We all read the great articles about [companies with] redundant sites, whole teams of people that swoop in and replace computers in a heartbeat, but obviously we don’t have the budget for that,” he says.

Giroux says he used Linux years ago when an NT Web server was giving him instability problems, and it was still on his radar a couple of years ago when the time came to replace a number of Windows 98 and 2000 clients at Whitelaw Twining. Besides, a Trojan brought in on a laptop computer had recently shut down every one of the firm’s approximately 35 Windows-based laptops in a single hour, amplifying his unease.

He didn’t have a preference when it came to Linux distributions so he tested a number of them. The SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) stood out for Giroux. It came with the GNOME desktop, which he regards as faster than most, Firefox, which is the company’s preferred browser, and the Citrix client built-in.
Today all but a handful of the secretaries, lawyers and legal assistants use SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (actually a mix of SLED versions 9 and 10 until Giroux upgrades everyone).

And almost every employee is running Citrix, which enables the use of Microsoft Office. Outside of Citrix, Whitelaw also runs multimedia software, DVD software, digital dictation and both digital transcription and recording devices.

The transition to Linux on the desktops has been simple, but not 100 per cent trouble-free. It was discovered that some of its USB Dictaphones didn’t have Linux drivers. Giroux must run VMWare on Windows to get around the problem. The VMWare machine connects directly to the USB ports on the computer so that Windows-based drivers will allow the transfer of files from the Dictaphones.

In future, Giroux admits that upgrades and application choices will have to be considered more carefully because of the decision to run Linux, but for Whitelaw Twining, it’s not that much trouble. It’s a very uniform office; everyone uses pretty much the same tools, working on essentially the same files.

Ross Chevalier, CTO/CIO at Novell Canada Ltd., says organizations tend to think about new operating systems when they make their hardware upgrades – and when the issue of capital outlay is top of mind. “When [firms] go through that hardware rotation and they look at the cost of licensing and getting up to date on all the other applications packages, that’s a great time to have a conversation about Linux.”

The Novell SUSE Linux subscription model is considerably less painful, Chevalier argues, because it doesn’t hit the capital expense budget and it can often be considered an operational expense, which is better from a tax perspective.

Plus, he says, the OS is simply less trouble. “A lot of SMBs want to focus on doing their business. They don’t want to become IT shops and be dealing with help desk and virus calls.”

Whitelaw’s rollout took one weekend and users were able to adapt to Linux using only a one-page instructional handout, says Giroux. He adds that the change to Linux has reduced desktop maintenance by 20 per cent, “and “that’s a conservative number.”

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