Hands Inc Ubuntu Pilot
The First Ubuntu Pilot
Hands Inc is a holistic health social enterprise in East London. The organisation has expanded rapidly over the past two years taking on several additional staff. They are now running an Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid) terminal server with half a dozen Ubuntu clients on a mixed network which includes Mac and Windows laptops. The Mac and Windows laptops use Neatx with NoMachines clients to login to the Ubuntu server virtually. Staff can also log into their virtual desktops from home.
This initial pilot provided a server network with full Ubuntu Karmic desktops for 5 workers, integrating an existing MS XP laptop and a Mac laptop, with cross-platform filesharing and secure remote working for just under £1000.
Hands Inc first contacted Fossbox in 2008 as they were rapidly expanding and had been donated two re-used PCs by HCVS/St Katharines and Shadwell Trust. These had be pre-installed with MS Windows XP and Open Office. They were having problems with the PCs running slowly and malfunctioning, did not know how to connect the PCs to their network or secure them and were unfamiliar with Open Office.
Fossbox connected and secured the PCs, set up basic file-sharing, did some RAM upgrades, fixed some additional hardware and OS problems and did some basic Open Office familiarisation. However, the PCs had come from a corporate donor and were, really, at the end of their useful life — despite RAM upgrades, they were still underpowered for XP SP3 and continued to suffer hardware malfunctions whilst XP slowed down again to really unuseable speeds.
Hands Inc had a small ICT budget and could not comfortably afford a full upgrade to Vista now that they needed 5 reliable PCs. They also could not afford an ongoing support contract for MS Windows workstations.
It was agreed that they would join the Ubuntu pilot scheme. The available budget was around £1,000 so we decided to use an Ubuntu Karmic LTSP (terminal server) setup so that we could re-used the older, donated PCs reliably and also buy two low-power, low-cost barebones PCs to make up the additional workstations. Malfunctioning boxes could simply be seamlessly replaced with other re-used PCs because PCs or laptops connected to a terminal server run entirely from the server so their own hardware specification doesn't make any difference.
The budget covered a mid-range desktop PC to use for the Ubuntu server (which can currently be bought for around £250) and two barebones PCs (£130 each), peripherals and cabling. Fossbox did the setup and 6 months free tech support for the new system pending funding application for needed ICT budget.
The outcomes have, overall, been good. The Ubuntu system has now been running for 18 months and has now been upgraded to 10.04 LTS. There were some minor bugs with Karmic (HP drivers and Evolution client), but no interruption of service (apart from their building's Cisco network being struck by lightning!) no slowdown and no malware at all. Staff are able to share files and also work from home, personal laptops can also be connected easily and securely to the server.
We have learned a great deal from this first pilot. Most of the existing evidence is that office workers can smoothly transition from Windows to Ubuntu without training. This doesn't seem to be as true of the non-profit sector, however. Fossbox did not appreciate how much training would be required to help staff make the transition to a brand-new operating system and staff experienced considerable frustration trying to work out the new system. They have experienced problems with MS Word documents — especially funding application forms issued by funders — corrupting in Open Office (although Adobe pdf Reader works as well on Ubuntu as it does on MS Windows). This is obviously a major issue for non-profits.
Training for DTP and graphics applications was particularly important for this organisation. We also needed to install the proprietary Adobe pdf reader in order to fill in Funding application pdf forms as the native Ubuntu software doesn't handle these very well yet (it's coming along but still a bit buggy around saving half-completed pdf forms). This is disappointing but there was no way this organisation could afford to avoid funding application forms.
There were a few problems with slightly reduced functionality on their HP Multifunction printer which Hands Inc needed to connect via USB to avoid others in their shared office space using their printer without permission. This meant that the scanner function did not network properly and only works on one of the PCs. A shared Canon multifunction provided by the Landlord has no Linux driver at all and is more or less unuseable on the available generic driver.
The transitional problems have been gradually overcome and the organisation is still using the Ubuntu LTSP network despite the ups and downs with the transition. This is particularly important as there were unsuccessful in obtaining funding for ICT upgrades in the current climate.
As Hands Inc had participated in the pilot, Fossbox provided an upgrade to the new long-term service version of Ubuntu LTSP (Lucid 10.04) and Hands Inc have decided to take out an ongoing service contract with Fossbox to maintain the server. The teething troubles have settled down and Ubuntu is working well in this environment.
Download Hands Inc's Reference [1.6 MB]