The Open Source Desktop Made Easy

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Although much is said and written about the open source desktop, one of its underlying assumptions is rarely discussed: the fact that people will shift to it from Windows in one mighty leap of faith. This, of course, is asking a lot; indeed, expecting general users to cope with novelty at all levels, all at once, is clearly rather foolish.

That's why for some time I've been advocating a phased introduction of open source software. This means swapping out programs like Internet Explorer, Outlook and Microsoft Office, and swapping in Firefox, Thunderbird and OpenOffice.org, but sticking with Windows. Once users are comfortable with these on that platform, it is possible to shift them across to GNU/Linux, using the same apps. Aside from one or two trivial changes of menu structure, the programs work identically across both, which means that users can concentrate on just one aspect of the second move: getting to know GNU/Linux.

Of course, I'm not the only one to suggest this – it's a pretty common suggestion; but large-scale implementations of the idea are somewhat rarer. But here's one:

Verona is about to become famous for more than just Romeo and Juliet and opera: the university of the romantic Italian city is migrating 4000 of its desktops to Linux and open source.

The migration, which started in Jan 2009, follows a three-year program called Open Source di Ateno (OSA). The step by step change-over began with applications like Firefox, Thunderbird and OpenOffice. From next January, open file and document standards will replace proprietary formats and by 2011, the change over of all PCs to open source software should be complete.

There's a page dedicated to the project, in Italian, but it's easier enough reading off the apps involved: Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu plus OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird, Sunbird and Filezilla are all supported on the desktop, while on the server the list includes Red Hat, Apache, Postgres SQL, Postfix, Samba and OpenSSH.

There's also a program I have to admit I've not come across before - the Sympa mailing list server:

Sympa is a mailing list management software, and as such it provides a couple of standard features which most mailing list software programs provide. In addition to this basic set of features, you may customize the software given the specifications you have for your mailing service. Below is a detailed list of features that Sympa provides. It has been organized to help you find out if Sympa meets your needs.

I don't know whether this is just my blindspot, or whether it's a slightly unusual choice: I'd be interested in your experiences.

In any case, Verona's project looks impressive in its thoroughness; its experiences in progressively rolling out free software to users could offer a useful example to companies and organisations who decide to take the easy route to the open source desktop.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter and identi.ca.

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