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Old 05-24-2004, 08:43 AM   #1
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Moving an office from windows to linux

Hi all

I thought i'd post this here and see what you all thought.

We are in the process of planning out our direction technology wise for the next few years. There are a number of things we would like to accopmlish and from the research i've done so far it seems like linux would be the easiest (best) way to do so. There are other things that should be doable but i'm not sure if there's anything out there (linux of non linux which would accomplish them)

Anyway... we have aprox. 100 users.. about half of who are laptop users (which were recently upgraded to win XP) most of the desktops are still running win 98. We also recently changed one of our servers from win NT to linux (and its working great). I'm not really a linux guru, but we do have one on staff.

One of the big things we would like to be able to do is have much better control over each of the workstations. In otherwords we'd like to be able to make changes in one spot and it would change on all the machiens, that sort of thing. The linux guru and I were talking about this and one thing we are considering is the use of an x server setup. (thoughts on this?)

The big problem with any solution is potentially the laptops (all ibm) because they are not always plugged into our network. I don't know if there is anyway to do this, but is it possible to set something up where, changes are pushed out to them whenever the connect to the network?

and my last question (for now) is if we did move to linux desktops... what would be the best way to provide those windows only apps that users "cannot" do without - for example word... i know there are programs such as Openoffice but I don't think we'ld have to slowly take away word.

Anyway any thoughts or ideas on the best way to do this kind of thing would be much appreciated

Old 05-24-2004, 09:36 AM   #2
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If you wish to run MS-Office on Linux, I suggest CrossOver Office.
CrossOver Office is a commercial version of Wine (
It is designed to run many win32 applications on Linux.

As for the X server, I guess you mean creating disk-less workstations. (i.e. OS and applications are located on the server).

One aspect to keep in mind is that you can always create scripts in order to maintain configuration files and application installation on a remote Linux system.
Using SSH and a package managing utitlity (rpm, apt, etc), you can install applications on remote system and push new configuration files to them.

For laptops (and desktops), you will have to keep track of which ones where updated (or you can have a script/database system do it for you).

Remember, Linux has many powerful scripting languages which you can definitely use in order to maintain many systems... use them.
This will required time and programming knowledge.
Old 05-24-2004, 06:58 PM   #3
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One thing that you could do would be to use Kerberos for authentication, which would allow you to have root on each of the boxes in your Kerberos realm with the same password. That would let you automate scripts to update your workstations, although that would take quite a lot of effort. There are some utilities out there that syncronize files, such as rsync, cfengine, etc...

The tricky thing is that if users have access to change the same files that you're trying to keep syncronized, they could create conflicts and if you overwrite changes they've made, it could render a machine crippled or even useless (without direct intravention). Any time you're talking about remotely managing workstations you have to be very, very careful.

One thing that you could do for your static workstations would be to run all your services off of one central machine or cluster and have each user export the required application to run on their X server. That would allow you to build very "thin" workstations and almost nothing on them, since all the processing would be done by the central cluster.

That approach won't work for laptops though, at least, not if you're expecting the laptop users to be able to do any work when they're not plugged into your network.
Old 05-24-2004, 08:23 PM   #4
Registered: Feb 2004
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I have managed a similar network, less the number of laptops (we only had a few). One important break you need to make is that you should not give root to your clients. I may seam convenient for you and them at times but it inevitably leads to users breaking there own systems in ways you could never imagine. If they need limited root use sudo.

As for your remote X install you may be better off exporting a more complete /usr/local dir structure. By this I mean install all the applications core to your env on a remote nfs server and
export that dir. The clients would only need a minimal install set and the rest of there apps would
be exported from /usr/local. This has many advantages as it provides a single point of upgrade/configuration for all the desktop clients, simply upgrade the server. The application set on /usr/local should include, the standard desktop (gnome,kde), and any office apps, in your case wine of corssover office. For the standard office apps, Word and Excel, you should be able to get away with using wine so don't pay for crossover.

Also it is very difficult to gage your needs when exporting complete X sessions, you can't control the number of apps your clients open and there for it is very difficult to gage memory and CPU needs. It is one thing to export X to some thin client with slim window managers (xfce, fvwm) that only run an instance of mozilla, your clients will be running a full KDE or Gnome, Office apps mutiple instances of wine/cossover office, and mozilla all big memory/cpu hogs.

We found that we rarely need to edit the clients local etc dir. Once we worked out all the kiniks for each desktop we saved that etc, and wrote a post install script to complete the install., i.e. hostname settings. We also ran an LDAP serve as our NIS provider, and had fairly complete, skel for the users home dir's which configured most of the apps with user specific config options, like mail, you would also need a .wine in the skel.

Another useful tool we used to install apps was stow. This is a GNU package management system that allows multiple instance of an app to be available at any given time. The way it works is when you build and app from source, as we did with almost all of our apps, we set the install prefix to /usr/local/package-version then you used stow to makes sim-links from the package-version dir to /usr/local . This allowed us to easily upgrade apps in place and if we made a config mistake we could simply unstow the bad app and restow the old app. This system could help with your laptops as you could simply tar up the stow dir drop it on the laptops and stow all the packages. Using some startup scripts you could, as the other post suggested use rsync to update the stow dir and stow any package changes.

These are some of the things we went through. I tried to touch on as many things as possible, its difficult to get into too much detail though, I would be writing all night!! If you have any more questions just post here, linuxquestions is a great resource.





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Old 05-26-2004, 10:32 AM   #5
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Thanks all

This is exactly the kind of info i'm looking for...

One thing i was considering... was to put openMosix on all the workstations to utilize at least some of their power.

If I set it up to run some things off the localmachine and some things through x... which apps (types of apps) would it be best to put on each?


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