As I mentioned in a previous post, I do not believe Linux is ready yet for the desktop in the solo or small firm, no matter how much I may want to see that happen. The one exception I made was with servers, “as you can save money on hardware (Linux is not nearly as resource hungry as Windows, so it doesn’t need the latest, speedy processor and lots of RAM).” The only problem I had was that I “could not recommend installing and configuring the Linux server software yourself, [and] once you hire a consultant, the savings evaporate.”
This problem, however, may not exist much longer. I was pleased to see a post on the PCWorld Blog today talking about Canonical’s work to partner with hardware vendors on their server distribution of Ubuntu Linux. They have been working for awhile with Dell on their desktop distribution, but I am glad that they are moving to servers also. The setup and configuration of these servers would not be as involved or expensive if they arrived preconfigured, and small firms might be able to get a less expensive Linux server for their office that will work right out of the box, assuming the vendor has the ability to configure to suit.
The economic downside of using servers with Windows software has always been the ever escalating cost. In the Windows world, Server 2003 currently sells for $950 at PC Connection, as of this writing, and includes licenses for five users (workstations or other devices) that access that server. After that, you can buy Client Access Licenses (CALs) for roughly $35 each, whether in 5-packs or 20-packs. Even in a small firm with two attorneys and three support staff, knocking almost $1,000 off the server cost would be a big savings. Also, Linux tends to be much more stable, less subject to crashes, and more secure, as viruses and worms are mainly being written for the Windows platform. Users in the firm would not even have to know anything about Linux or learn Linux apps, as they could access these servers seamlessly from workstations running Windows. In addition, with broadband speeds getting faster (in both directions), cheap LAMP servers may also bring to the small law firm the ability to host its own web site, blogs, e-mail boxes, etc.
All of this is still in the works, so we need to wait and see what develops; however, this is certainly a step in the right direction for getting Linux into the small law office.
UPDATE: Tomorrow, October 18, 2007, Canonical is set to release for free download the next 6-month update to Ubuntu Linux, version 7.10 or “Gutsy Gibbon.” The server version of the upgrade has some new features worthy of note:
- Easier installation and configuration of web server features. “Three new quick start profiles have been added so typical services such as E-mail and Web serving can be deployed quickly using a standardized and repeatable set-up.”
- Better security. “AppArmor provides significantly enhanced security which protects the server from intrusion. Common server applications such as Apache (web server) and Postfix (e-mail server) are protected with default policies. Administrators can easily lock down programs and resources and add policies for their specific requirements.”
- Reduced power consumption and heat emission.
- Improved print server capability.
- Enhanced Samba (server software that allows Windows machines to access files on a Linux server) compatibility with Windows desktop PCs, including Vista. This should make it even easier for Windows desktop PCs to interact seamlessly with a Linux file server.
These improvements, combined with the promise of deployment on machines from major vendors, continue to move Linux towards adoption in the small law firm or any small business.