Many IT managers are finding alternatives to proprietary software that do not mean having to leave behind their cherished Windows operating systems.
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Many free and easy-to-use open source applications, including the newly updated Mozilla Firefox Web browser and the steadily improving OpenOffice.org productivity suite, enable company executives to experiment with open source software while allowing users to stay with Microsoft Windows.
Robin Bloor, an analyst with Hurwitz & Associates in Waltham, Mass., said improvements made to Firefox late last year contributed to "an incredible takeoff" that accelerated credibility and interest in open source software applications offered for Windows.
Firefox, when used with OpenOffice, now "gives you the basis for going with open source without dropping Windows," Bloor said. Since the Firefox applications look and operate like similar Windows applications, companies can avoid costs associated with training and migration, he said. "You've started a move to open source that could lead you to Linux, but you haven't gone all the way."
Many companies are still upset about increased license costs from Microsoft in recent years, and are looking for some leverage when negotiating, Bloor said. "People want to be able to say, 'You know, we're thinking of going to open source, now what was that fee again?' Previously, they had no leverage at all."
Joe Poole, manager for technical support at Boscov's Department Store LLC, in Reading, Pa., said the company is using some open source applications in its desktop Windows environment. OpenOffice.org has been deployed in the company's 41 stores to help security workers report incidents of fraud by shoppers who steal items and later seek a refund without having a receipt.
Boscov IT workers taught employees how to save OpenOffice.org documents using native Microsoft Office file formats, eliminating compatibility issues. "There was a savings," Poole said. "If you figure $300 for a Microsoft Office suite at 41 stores, that's a chunk of change we just saved."
Now the Boscov IT staff is recommending that the company use Firefox Web browser to replace Microsoft Internet Explorer, Poole said. It's 'safer,' Poole believes, because of the many existing Internet Explorer exploits.
Jim Prevo, the CIO at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. in Waterbury, Vt., has for a long time run a Windows and PeopleSoft shop, but is also experimenting with open source, he said.
"We've started some very low-level testing of Firefox," Prevo said. The company's five-year Microsoft Office upgrade is due next year and the company may explore OpenOffice options, he added.
Not all users will be able to make the switch, though. Those with complex Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint files probably won't be able to work with open source alternatives because of file and macro compatibility issues, Bloor said. But for many users, who are creating presentations and spreadsheets, the alternatives are compelling.
Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, N.H., said there are plenty of options for companies wanting to try open source applications without abandoning their familiar and trusted Windows platforms.
"It certainly is possible for almost any size company to adopt large parts of an open source desktop without running Linux," Haff said. Gimp, an open source image editing application, and the Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail application, are among a growing field of competing open source applications.
One place to find several open source Windows options is The OSSwin Project Web site, where everything from CD writing applications to utilities and file sharing tools are available. Another Web resource is TheOpenCD.
"It's a very reasonable strategy for a company to consider adopting open source applications on Windows," Haff said. "Perhaps in time, they can look at other options, including moving to Linux."
This tip originally appeared on SearchCIO.com.