by February 2, 2012 0 comments

Arun Shrimali, Assistant General Manager (IT & QS), Resonance Eduventures

It is not always easy, if you want to change it completely. As a technology head, you have the complete responsibility of the policy decision which is going to effect the organisation in long term. Thus you can not go just by your choice, preference or gut feelings.

Whenever organisation grows or need of Information Technology grows in the organisation, you generally have the choice of going for proprietary or open source software. In Indian conditions where piracy level is high, it goes normally from pirated software to proprietary or open source software. Earlier option is easy to implement, costlier and perceived as user friendly, where as the latter is difficult, economical and user friendly (for learner users). Of course training is the major cost incurred in implementing an open source application for mass users compared to the product costs in case of properitary software. A thoughtful evaluation is required before deciding over it, to minimise the risk.

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Our management gave the mandate to opt for the option where organisation has minimum external dependency. Going by the mandate, we decided to go for Open Source solutions. But we know that the organisation’s work should not be hampered and we should have solutions for each requirement. Now, we have to decide what sort of software to use both at the user as well as the server level. We did a requirement analysis and categorised the user’s IT needs into, communication, routine office tasks, web-based and desktop applications.

The first decision we took, was to stop the development of a desktop application and conversion of existing applications to web-based, thus all the application and tasks could be platform-independent. Secondly, we decided to replace MS Office with and Internet Explorer with Firefox. For OpenOffice, we did a user analysis for designing training sessions. We found that Excel is used most by users. During the training sessions users found that most of the work could be done easily by the new application. The major resistance from users was that, did not have the page margin setup in ‘print preview’ mode. But fortunately, the issue was resolved in the next version and was the reason behind user acceptance. Firefox was readily accepted by users due to its ease of use and features. This way we were free to implement/impose open source operating software at the user end without making much changes in the interface of routine applications.

What we deployed

For implementation purposes, we divided users into three categorises:

  • Office users, mostly using browser and office apps (word/spreadsheet/presentation).
  • Normal application users (using inhouse and standard applications).
  • Critical application users (using critical applications which are dependent on OS).

While deciding for the operating system at the desktop level, we opted for Ubuntu as it was user-friendly, popular, provided good support, is under active development, and needless to say, has attractive features and stability.

The first type of users are in majority, which is normal for any SME. With training provided in, and when we observed that users are familiar with it, we immediately implemented a new OS, Ubuntu at the user desktops. Some users took to the changes readily, whereas others forced to adapt as a policy matter, of cource management support is always required to implement such a strong decision.

We did some changes in the IT department as well. The basic requirements were: a gateway server, a file server, a domain server, a database server, and a web/application server. We started with the gateway server, where we had to configure a firewall and proxy (Squid) server. Initially, we opted for Fedora but later switched to Ubuntu server (and are currently using Zentyal Server — based on Ubuntu (

With the successful implementation of the gateway server, we planned for the file server. We used Ubuntu Server with Webmin. Webmin did provide a very good interface to configure applications, but lacked in integrated module management. For routine user management and their needs, we evaluated ClearOS, SME server and Zentyal (Ebox).

We zeroed down to Zentyal, which has integrated all important modules required for any SME. It could be managed by a simple system administrator, which also breaks the myth that open source applications require an open source expert for rollout or purchase support on contract.

The challenges

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In the process, we faced a few challenges as well:

  • New users — It is very unfortunate that open source applications have no space in the formal school education nor in professional education (other than computer streams). Thus a normal office user is unaware that there are more stable, feature-rich and economical options available for their favourite applications. This creates user resistance to switch, and raises doubts about application reliability. We need to have a regular training session for users.
  • Replacement for applications — A suitable and stable replacement of few popularly used applications are still missing such as Tally, Pagemaker, etc.
  • Printer Compatibility — Initially we had tough time for printer compatibility but now it has improved a lot and most printers have good compatibility. Specially HPLIP (http://hplipopensource. com) is doing a great job for supporting HP printers over Linux.
  • Scanner Compatibility — Scanner compatibility is still a issue. Even common scanners have issues.
  • Domain servers — A server client setup is very common in SMEs, even though the concept has become old and needs to be replaced by newer technologies. Linux as a server and Windows as a client/Windows as a server and Linux as a client could be easily configured. But if you’re planning for a complete Linux-based setup, it is a difficult task (though combination SSO, Kerberos, etc. could be used). Fortunately Zentyal has sensed the issued and planned to worked on it in the next version (http://trac.zentyal. org/milestone/3.0).
  • OpenOffice recovery — Power cut and fluctuations are very common in Indian conditions. With the abrupt closer of the file, due to power cuts, running OpenOffice files can get corrupted with a zero size. Even the “always create backup copy” option is not effective.­­-
  • Implementing open source soultions is not a nightmare now, in fact they are now a viable alternative to a wide range of proprietary software. Some open source software are mature enough to be relied on for business critical applications.

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