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The Colorado town, high in the Rocky Mountains, has a long tradition of ranching but nowadays is better known as a winter resort, due to its location below one of the largest ski mountains in North America. It has a total population of only about 10,000, though around 15,000 people visit every week during ski season.
Despite being steeped in tradition, the city administration is open to new technologies and for some time has been using OpenOffice.org, Firefox and various other open-source applications. It's been using Linux servers for five years and is considering a move to Linux desktops. Open source also has proved invaluable to Steamboat Springs and its neighboring towns in enabling e-government services.
ZDNet UK spoke to Kent Morrison, the manager of information systems at Steamboat Springs, to find out more about the city's migration to open source. Morrison is responsible for two other staff members in the town's IT department, which supports 160 networked workstations and approximately 220 e-mail accounts across the town.
Q: Steamboat Springs' first use of Linux was on the server. What sort of applications are you running on these servers? Are you still running Microsoft Windows servers as well?
Morrison: In the last five years we've made a lot of progress--we've moved all our file and print servers, approximately 90 percent of our Web server activity and several mission-critical applications to Linux. The server running a mission-critical, revenue-generating application has been an extremely stable machine--if it hadn't been for a major power outage, it would have been running for three years without a reboot.
We maintain a Windows 2000 Active Directory domain because of our relationship with another local government department, and we still have Microsoft Exchange 2000. Altogether we have six Windows servers and seven Linux servers, but this year we intend to retire Exchange and replace it with an open-source application.
What open-source messaging and collaboration server do you plan to use? Will you migrate the mail clients also?
Morrison: We're still deciding which open-source (server) product to use. Ideally for the users I would keep using Microsoft Outlook and attach it to a different back end. But I don't think that will be practical, so we'll probably switch to a Web-based interface for users.
Do you use commercial or community Linux distributions?
Morrison: We use a blend of the two. We run systems such as our backup applications on Fedora (Red Hat's community distribution) but decided to buy Red Hat Enterprise for our mission-critical server. Red Hat Enterprise is not an inexpensive product, but we can call the company when we want to and get immediate answers. Although, when we have problems with our less mission-critical servers, it's amazing how quickly we can find an answer by searching on the Internet.
What about Linux on the desktop--is this an option for your organization?
Morrison: We've discussed it. With Linux's ability to emulate Windows improving every year, we see that as a possibility. We would build a Linux image for the majority of users, but for the 20 percent of users that run Windows-only applications we would keep them on the same platform. We would try to make a Linux desktop look like our Windows environment (the organization currently runs Windows 2000 but will start rolling out XP this year) as we don't want to retrain our users. We don't have a time frame for installing Linux yet, though.
We've already installed OpenOffice.org and Firefox on users' machines so people can slowly get accustomed to them. We put these applications on our replication images in 2003, so since then every time we replace a workstation we use that image. Then, when we sit a user down in front of their new machine we say, "It has Microsoft Office and a product called OpenOffice, so if you have basic word-processing or spreadsheet activities that don't need to be shared with someone that uses a different product, you should try OpenOffice--it's simple to use."
Basically, we are familiarizing them with the idea that they can do word processing and spreadsheets in an environment that's not Microsoft. In the future, when we reduce the number of Office license purchases we can shift people more gently.
But are people actually using the open-source applications? Surely, they'd rather use the application they're familiar with?
Morrison: We have had people say, "We want to do flow charts, can you buy me (Microsoft) Visio?" So we said, "Take a look at OpenOffice Draw." It's not 100 percent stable, but it's enough for what most people want to do with a flow chart. The people who asked that question are now using that application.
Someone asked me a couple of months ago for a project management tool. They didn't have sophisticated project management requirements, but they needed to share it with individuals outside the organization. I looked for an open-source tool on the Web and found DotProject. It took a bit of tweaking, but we are already seeing some success with using this. The coolest thing about it is that project managers can send members of the public a link, and they can simply log on and look at the data.
The first project I tried this with is a redevelopment project. There are many people involved in this project, including the Steamboat Ski Corp., the city administration, members of the planning commission, the architect and business owners. If we used a commercial project management package, everyone would have to buy a license, or I would have had to pay for the Web interface option, which is expensive--commercial vendors who sell collaborative project management packages can charge up to $30,000.
You said that you're using Firefox. Do your users still have access to Microsoft Internet Explorer?
Morrison: We have a few Web sites that our users have to access that require IE, so we didn't remove it from their machines, but we have trained them to use Firefox as much as possible because it's less vulnerable--most of the problems we have with spyware come in through IE.
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