Bye Bye XP, Hello GNU

November 1st was the start of our new financial year. It was also the start of our new accounting system. Today it produced its first invoice way-hay!

The old Intuit Quicken is now retired save for finalising last year’s results. It won’t be missed. Bug-ridden and failure to re-register on new PCs did not endear it. It was also our last application that was Microsoft Windows dependent.

You may be aware that April 2014 is the end of the road for Windows XP support. Whilst it will still work in May the publication of patches for other Microsoft Windows variants will likely be reverse engineered by hackers to exploit flaws in XP. In other words an unsafe operating system will become a lot more unsafe. Particularly for organisations such as ours where our work and income is totally dependent on internet connected computers.

By then our half dozen XP computers will be retired or converted to running Kubuntu (the KDE variant of the Ubuntu Linux OS). A couple will be dual booting just in case we need to revisit XP in private but otherwise we will be a pure Linux house. Our servers being based on CentOS/Red Hat Linux.

This was not so much our choice but the direct result of Microsoft’s developments. We were a Microsoft Partner with access to the whole set of software virtually free of charge. The company was established in 1993 on a Windows for Workgroups network. It evolved naturally through Windows 95/98 and Windows NT to Windows 2000/XP. We enthusiastically awaited XP’s successor Vista.

A week after the first disk arrived I was still struggling to make a usable system that would integrate seemlessly into our office network. But it was obvious that Microsoft had made Vista different solely for the purpose of being different whilst the eye-candy aero interface just slowed everything down. Business computers are tools not style machines.

I had played around with Ubuntu a year or two earlier but we just didn’t get on. People had said Ubuntu is for Mac users and Kubuntu is for XP users. So I gave it a go. Within a day I was further on than that frustrating week with Vista. The decision to move the office network to Vista was abandoned and new computers were fitted up with Kubuntu.

That was 2006. Since then I have had two computers on my desk. Kubuntu on the left and XP on my right. To begin with most of my work was done with my right hand. Microsoft Office ran the office, my world was held on a Outlook pst file on a USB stick. Kubuntu was great (actually greater) for browsing and networking but most apps didn’t run on it.

Since then the policy was any new application had to be platform independent. As I became more familiar with GNU world we looked at non-Windows equivelents. Microsoft Office gave way to OpenOffice (later LibreOffice), GIMP took over graphic creation and so on. Then about a year ago I found my left hand was dominant. Kubuntu was the preferred environment. And so Quicken became the last reason to use Windows. Now we have no reason.

Quicken’s replacement is GnuCash. A simple but effective and tailorable program. The future is clear without Microsoft.

There are a few lessons. First that we took 5/6 years to make the transition. Our requirements are primarily for specific internet related tools and utilities which are often GNU based and our needs for high end spreadsheeting are slight. We can do it. People dependent on Excel macros cannot. Even if you can then change is always difficult. Things that are different grate, the advantages of the new lay hidden, there are a few gotchas. Over time all these get smoothed out.

With just 6 months to go if you are still XP dependent you have a real problem. Not enough time and Windows 8.1 looks more suited to tablets than heavy workstation use. Good luck!

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