Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Open Source desktop has finally arrived

Over the past year, I've run Windows Vista, Mac OS X (Tiger), and several flavors of Linux (Ubuntu, Debian, SUSE, Fedora, Red Hat Enterprise). Although it is true that Mac OS X is my favorite operating system for multimedia support, user experience and stability, it only runs on Apple hardware. As a road warrior CIO, I need a 12" subnotebook weighing 2 pounds, which does not yet exist in Apple's product line.

For the past 6 months, I've been running Ubuntu Feisty Fawn Linux with Open Office, Evolution email, and Firefox on a Dell D420 subnotebook. It has been good enough for all my computing needs, providing secure, reliable, easy to use software with a low total cost of ownership. However, there have been a few annoyances. Suspend/resume works about 80% of the time. When it does not work, my matchstick mouse locks up and I have to close the lid, resume again and all is well. Occasionally, upon waking from suspend, my laptop does not reconnect to my home wireless network. The Evolution email client can be slow to synchronize with Microsoft Exchange because it does not cache email locally and thus downloads all email headers from scratch whenever the email application is started. However, all office productivity, browser, and multimedia applications work flawlessly.

Tonight, as part of the normal Ubuntu updating process, I clicked on Update Manager to automatically replace the entire Linux operating system on my laptop with the next release of Ubuntu, Gutsy Gibbon. The new operating system downloaded, automatically installed itself and resolved every problem I have ever had with Linux. Congrats to the folks at Canonical who maintain Ubuntu and to the folks at Novell who have significantly upgraded their Evolution email client to meet the needs of Microsoft Exchange users.

I am completely confident in saying that "Linux your grandmother could use" has now arrived. With Ubuntu Gutsy Gorilla, everyone can have a free desktop/laptop operating system with all the productivity tools necessary to get your work done.

Two years ago, when I had dinner with Steve Ballmer, I explained that healthcare needs highly reliable, lower cost, more secure desktop software. He countered that new features are the highest priority of Microsoft customers and that it would be impossible to create a lightweight, reliable, low cost, secure version of Microsoft operating systems and applications given the demand for ever increasing features.

I am a realist and recognize that Microsoft provides many enterprise software products that will continue to have a strong presence in healthcare. However, now that Ubuntu is good enough, I expect that more people will try it and experience the advantages of running software with just the right balance of features, speed, and stability. And it's always free.

To try it yourself, go to

Let me know how it goes!


Michael said...

Hi John,

I stumbled across your blog and have enjoyed reading it. I am also a fan of all things "open-source". Have you, as CIO, considered, or implemented any open-source desktop applications on an enterprise level (I am thinking in particular of productivity software like")? In your view, what are the advantages/disadvantages?

Thanks again! I look forward to reading more posts!

John Halamka said...

We have implemented OpenOffice on all our 2000 public workstations.

Over the past year, customer satisfaction with it has been very high.

Also, Firefox is widely deployed throughout our environment.

Ileana said...

What database system are you using?

Unknown said...

I'm a recent Mac OSX and Ubuntu convert myself.

I got the macbook laptop at the beginning of October, all for iWork and Numbers (I'm a data and chart junkie). I then had my home PC, I wanted to do some fun stuff with, like remote admin and such, so I rebuilt with ubuntu.

I have to admit both are so intuitive. It's like getting both ends of the spectrum, Mac for its ease of usability, and Ubuntu for its ease of configuration and power.

I updated Ubuntu, unfortunately have had only 20 minutes to play with it. I get my copy of OSX Leopard tommorow in the mail.

I've used windows since 3.11, and am happy to be rid of it in my personal life. Just wish I could at work.

I would love to see the cost benefit of going linux in a hospital.

John Halamka said...

We use SQL2005 clusters, Oracle 10g, MySQL and Postres databases

ROI on using OpenOffice is 2000 desktops x $300 per license for Microsoft Office v. $0.00 for Star office

Dave said...

This is interesting news. I've done this myself but I miss two applications; Mind Manager - a mind mapping program and Microsoft OneNote 2007. Do you use anything like these for Ubuntu 7.10?

Unknown said...

One of the hurdles we have encountered, when considering an open source desktop, is the lack of Linux clients available for our applications. We use Meditech for our HIS, for which there are only Win clients provided.
Great Blog!

Kristian Eliassen said...


It is nice to see there are others in the health care industry looking toward open source to reduce cost. We are currently developing a Linux desktop with email, office, and web browsing abilities. Due to our MS heavy environment, support, and the benefits of Novell's partnership with Microsoft; we have been leaning towards the Novell desktop and their open office variant. How do you or would you internally support open source products such as Open Office or Kubuntu?

Great blog! Thank you!