Novell Australia leads global Linux migration, dumps MS Office

Novell's local operation is taking a leading role in an ambitious year-long plan to move all the company's 6000 worldwide staff onto Linux desktops.

The migration, which will see staff across the globe using SuSE Linux systems running OpenOffice, is partly motivated by broader commercial concerns. Novell completed its $US210 million acquisition of SuSE in January this year, and the company wants to use itself as a showcase for both SuSE and Ximian, which it also purchased last year.

However, Novell Asia Pacific CIO Sam Gennaoui said that there was also a basic financial argument for the shift. "We are like any other company; we still have ROIs to deliver," he said.

Sam Gennaoui

Around 90 per cent all of the company's 350 Asia-Pacific staff, half of whom are based in Australia, have started using OpenOffice as a replacement for Microsoft's Office suite.

Reaction so far has been positive. "There always tends to be some pushback from users, but there's a sense of willingness to embrace the new technology," Gennaoui said. The local operation is "way ahead of the movement" in the rest of Novell, he added. "We have a smaller base of users and we're more flexible."

Novell has also developed a number of custom enhancements to OpenOffice to help migrate common internal document templates. The source code for those enhancements will be made available to the broader OpenOffice community.

The second phase of the plan will see all systems switched from Windows to SuSE. Gennaoui hopes to have half the local staff running Linux by October, with the remainder to change over by early next year. Using a custom set of technologies which read Windows users preferences into SuSE after a dual-boot installation, the average desktop can be migrated in less than an hour.

Separating applications migration from the change in OS has had a number of benefits for Novell. "We won't do it all at such a rapid pace that we disrupt the business," Gennaoui said, noting that pressure on IT staff was also reduced by the two-phase plan. "Breaking it down into manageable chunks will ensure a greater rate of success."

The most critical element of a successful migration has been a clearly articulated plan, according to Gennaoui. "It's important to communicate with end users. They're the ones whose support you need."

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