During the almost 3 years that I've been working in my current company I have managed to inject a few free/open source programs in place of some classic proprietary ones. It was not a quick change for as a junior sysadmin in a very strict IT organization, completely windows dominated, I was extremely afraid to propose such software on the director of the department.
However little by little, by informing them by word and example of the superiority of those programs, either in features, price, security or any combination of those three, I was able, eventually, to replace some commonly used tools.
What this means is that even if you're not responsible for much within your IT department, or even if you don't work in the IT department at all, by using the correct presentation and timing you may be able to initiate change and maybe even make them think about what else the Free Software can offer.
Believe it or not, some people are paranoid about their systems and IT managers are especially so, which is why they tend to frown at software names they do not recognise. By using the following simple and harmless products, you are easing them into unknown territory so that they will learn to trust your judgment and consider your future, more radical propositions, if and when you decide to make them.
The easy one: 7zip
I consider 7-zip the easiest program you can convince your enterprise to adopt. There are many reasons for this, reasons that you will have to explain to the appropriate people when the time is right of course.
I first discovered 7-zip in an unlikely article of a known hardware site. I never even heard of it before then and it completely caught me by surprise when I decided to use it.
Not only it is very easy to use, but it has its own compression format which is better than zips and rars and it comes with all the options you expect a zip program to have. As soon as I played with it for a while, I showed it to the IT director, explaining how easy it was to use, how much better it compressed files and how much cleaner it left your system. Specifically
- 7-zip is usable from the context menu as most compression utilities and it gives you a choice for subgroup if you so require.
- It does not cost a cent and it doesn't have annoying shareware notices.
- The 7z compression is superior to both zip and rar.
- 7-zip compresses .zip files better than Winzip.
- It can handle almost all known compression formats.
- It is simple and clean. It does not put taskbar items and strange registry entries.
- The icons are nice. 7z uses different icons for compressed files that make it easy to distinguish what kind of compression they use.
- It is scriptable
- It is small
At first I used to tell him how I "compressed a file or directory by 30% more than winzip did" or "How nice is not to have to press "I Accept' every time you access an archive" and he seemed interested. At one point I installed it on his own workstation to let him see it. After I showed him that it could access all kinds of files, that it was free and thus there was no fear of an audit and that it could compress better than winzip and winrar, he was sold.
After a while I informed him that I would start to install this on new PCs instead of winzip or winrar and he didn't have any objections. Finally, after a few weeks without incidents, I took the final step and asked permission to deinstall all copies of the other compression programs and put 7-zip in their place. Ever since that was done, I've never had a problem with it, other than the one time where a user had, for some reason, used a strong winzip 10 cryptography to put a password on a file and 7-zip couldn't open it, even with the correct password.
After I explained that such a strong cryptography was not
needed for intra-network mails, the final copy of winzip (on a smart guy's laptop, he had downloaded it himself) was gone.
The Machina: Spybot - Search & Destroy
(Note: It has come to my attention that Spybot is not actually OS. I was under the mistaken impression that it was and I apologise for the confusion. Still, use it to promote the next tool, Firefox)
Spybot is the perfect application to show the power of Free (as in beer) Software. Not only is it free but it is also very good at what it does (cleaning spyware/adware), multilingual and finally a required application for any windows system. The easiest way to promote this application is by using it as the proverbial deus ex machina when a critical pc (probably of someone in managerial position) is slowed to a crawl due to spyware. As you restore their PC to working status, use the scan/update time to inform them why their computer was infected when they had an antivirus and how this wonderful tool, that is provided for free can save the day. Tell them how there are many such tools out there and some of them can make their computer even more secure (this is the perfect time to propose Firefox). If you have the time, say a few easily digested things about Free and Libre software so that they dip their finger in it. Then the next time you want to install some free software remind them how well Spybot:S&D worked the last time.
This case is even better if they had bought a proprietary "Spyware cleaner" already. Those things are usually spyware as well so the solution is worse than the problem. Not only did they not clean their computer but they paid for it as well. People who buy these things usually do not trust free software and prefer to buy something to feel secure. When you clean their machine using a free software, you may force a fact recalculation upon them.
The tricky: Firefox
Although firefox is one of the most widely used OSS around, it is still quite tricky to get your enterprise to embrace it, especially if they are a hardcore microsoft company. Actually, I was originaly using Mozilla for my workstation and I wouldn't even dream of proposing this hulking beast for the common user. They'd bite my head off and then laugh as my headless carcass fell to the ground with a whine. I just felt good and different among all those poor IE users. However when Firefox 1.0 came out, even though I stubbornly rejected Mozilla's stray child until now, I couldn't help but try it, use it and finally love it.
This was not the best part however. With Firefox I finally had a browser the common user could play with and not rip his hair out in frustration and I made it my first priority to spread it, like a benevolent cancer, inside the workplace.
However with Firefox the situation is always tricky. The biggest problem is that most people, especially older ones, don't see the reason to use Firefox when IE did the job just fine until then. These people aren't especially interested in features, when they haven't used them (and this is important), or philosophy. This is why a clean with Spybot and an explanation of why it happened (IE) and how they could help prevent it in the future (Firefox) is a good introduction.
If such a situation doesn't arise, it may be from hard to impossible to make older, more conservative people use Firefox. You have to be at your wits and find the timing to propose it. Say when a site does not display correctly due to IE doing his stuff, or when they get flooded with pop-ups they can't stop because they don't have WinXP or haven't installed SP2 yet (Although, in this case, if your are the IT, you're the one at fault) etc.
Younger or more techno-savvy people should be easier to convert though. One good tactic is to give them the package Spybot-Firefox in order to clean up their computers at home. The'll be asking for Firefox in their desktop in no time. If that is not possible, use the usual Firefox mantra (Tabs, Pop-up blocker, extension, Themes) to work out their appetite and them let them have a test drive.
Finally there are the stubborn ones, the know-it-alls that think they are impervious to damage. Usually when you propose firefox they respond with a high-and-mighty attitude that they are perfectly secure with IE. You can't do much about them so just don't waste your time on futile arguments. There is a chance to convert them when they are the only ones in the office still using the deprecated browser and see everyone else with their own firefox toys and themes.
Yes, that's right. Not only install firefox but also choose a few nice extensions and install them before hand. A Few nice ones are Forecastfox
(For those weather maniacs), Adblock
(Show it in action, don't Forget filterG), Session Saver
(for those that make lots of reboots, or just use win98 ;), Siteadvisor
if they're music lovers. Also have a few themes handy and try to give each new install a different theme to intone the individuality. If you manage to make them dependent on a few firefox only things, they'll never look back. Also give them freedom to search for new themes and even extensions if you don't have a problem with that. Let them become firefox zealots on their own.
Firefox is a tough one to distribute to a conservative enterprise, but with a few well placed hooks and carrots you should be able to pull it off. For reference's sake, even though I haven't managed to make all users use firefox (mainly because they tend to frequent IE only sites) I have made an adequate number realize that firefox is a much better choice of browser and IE is only to be used for emergency.
These three small apps your first step to turning your workplace's software ethics around. If you take small steps at the start you may end up taking leaps and bound in the future.
This is how this site came to be after all ;)