I have written several posts about Linux and whether it is ready for the solo and small law office, listing the pros and cons as I have seen them. However, there is one “con” that people have in their minds when they think of Linux that should not be there: that Open Source Software (OSS) does not have the support that commercial products do. This has contributed somewhat to a resistance to adopt Linux in the business world. The shame of it is, it is a false perception.
People seem hesitant to accept open source because “there is no company behind it” like Microsoft. First of all, from an OS standpoint, support of Linux distros by the companies that publish them has come a long way in the past few years. Companies like Canonical (the distributor of Ubuntu Linux), Novell (SuSE Linux), and Red Hat offer support programs that can assist you with your problem, although these programs vary in pricing and how they are conducted. The point is, however, that despite the fact that the OS is developed, maintained, and improved by an amorphous body of programmers (the open source community), there are real companies behind the distros that will be there if you have a question or problem. For those that take a hands-on approach to their systems, there are forums for help, such as Red Hat’s Knowledge Base, Ubuntu’s Forums, and SuSE Forums. Also, with Linux PCs now being sold by Dell, they offer support for their systems as well.
Second of all, there are the OSS applications on Linux. OpenOffice has a network of trained consultants to help you, along with support packages offered by Sun Microsystems, and many books on the subject (just like all the books on Microsoft Office). For browsers, Firefox regularly checks for and downloads patches and upgrades to keep it up to date and secure, and has third party books as well, including a Dummies book. The same is true for Thunderbird e-mail.
Third of all, there are more and more consulting companies providing Linux support, as open source gains more ground in the marketplace. Since open source software is often times free, the money is in the support, and more and more companies are realizing this.
My overall opinion on whether Linux and open source apps are ready for the small law office is still rather guarded, and I continue to take a wait-and-see attitude as the OSS picture changes; however, you should NOT make a decision against Linux and OSS based on any belief that you are “on your own” on implementation, maintenance, and troubleshooting. The resources out there are too broad to cover in this post, however. I invite my readers who are Linux users to comment on other Linux distros and law-related apps and what support is available out there.