Linux: Tux Goes to Church

In today's world of shrinking budgets and shrinking incomes, charitable organizations are feeling a financial crunch from lower giving. Churches are among these organizations that are struggling to make ends meet while attempting to serve the communities around them. With budgets stagnant or shrinking does it make fiscal sense for a charity, such as a church, to spend money "upgrading" to Microsoft Windows 7 on the desktop and Microsoft Windows Server 2008 in the server closet? Does it make fiscal sense for a church to use Apple systems? No, it does not make fiscal sense to do that. Especially when there is Linux and there are thousands of Free Open Source Software (FOSS) applications that have no license costs and no restrictions on freedom.

In this article I intend to show that a church, or other charity, can financially benefit from a switch to Linux on the desktop and in the server closet. I have looked into these options because I have charitable organization clients and churches doing business with my company. I am always interested in helping charities lower their costs so they can spend more on helping our neighbors in need. So, let us begin with the operating system.

Churches are typically using Microsoft Windows XP on the desktop and are going to have to upgrade to Windows 7 at some point in the next three years if they stick with Microsoft. In many cases this will mean buying new computers to run Windows 7. Some churches are also running expensive Microsoft server systems as file servers in the server closet. Churches appear to be unaware there is an alternative "free" operating system that can serve as the underlying system for a wealth of "free" software. This same "free" operating system will run just fine on their existing hardware or even better on new hardware. Using older hardware all they need to invest is time to get familiar with the new "free" system and software.Thinking that Windows 7 will not require some retraining is naive. With new hardware all they are out is the cost of the hardware and time to train on the new system.

Of course that "free" system is Linux. Usually some local system builder will be glad to build systems and preload Linux for a church. That same local system builder can likely provide support if asked. Any Linux distribution could serve as a good base on which a church could build its IT operations. On the desktop I would still recommend Mandriva despite its roller coaster history. Mandriva is a very easy to learn, user-friendly Linux distribution. It has easy GUI tools in the Mandriva Control Center to help the Linux novice get started with setup of a Linux system. At this point I would recommend the Gnome desktop for end-users coming from Microsoft that need a full-blown GUI to be comfortable. Once KDE 4.x is back to being at least as good as KDE 3.5.10  I may recommend that again. But I do not recommend KDE at this point.

A file server can easily be run on a Linux based system using NFS, a native file sharing system for Unix and Linux, and/or SAMBA. If the church office is running all Linux in a fully trusted environment then set up a Linux server with NFS for file sharing. If more control is needed to perhaps protect sensitive counseling documents then set up SAMBA with user controls. A church office can even use both as neither the Linux system nor the file sharing systems will cost a cent in license fees.

Churches that are using Microsoft Outlook would be comfortable using Evolution for e-mail. Evolution can import Outlook personal folders (.pst files) and Outlook created CSV or TAB delimited files. Evolution also has the groupware capabilities and Calendar features that some churches rely on in Outlook.

If a church is using Microsoft Office for documents and spreadsheets then the serious contenders on Linux are Office Suite and the GnomeOffice applications. I will give a nod to KOffice as well, although it brings in the unfixed problems with KDE 4.x at this time. The only people that would ever have a problem switching from Microsoft Office to a FOSS office suite are those who are "power users" that use esoteric "features" of Microsoft Office applications. Writer will do everything that a church needs in a word processor for creating documents. Abiword will also do all that churches need in a word processor. For spreadsheets both Calc and Gnumeric will do all the addition, subtraction, division and multiplication needed in a spreadsheet headed to the church finance committee. The great thing about these tools is a church's staff can have them all installed and use all of them without incurring one penny in extra cost.

Should a church need to import pictures for documents then F-Spot can fill that need. Typically a church may have a web site these days. Importing pictures from a camera or picture card to upload to the web site is very easy with F-Spot. The same is true of importing pictures to use in a church newsletter.

How about desktop publishing for a church? Churches that are using Microsoft Publisher to create church newsletters in PDF are missing out on savings if they have not tried Scribus. While Scribus will not import Publisher files it will do any desktop publishing task I have thrown at it personally. Once one has created a template or two to use then it is very easy to create a newsletter each month using Scribus. If that newsletter needs to be printed by a professional print shop I do not know of any professional print shop that cannot work with EPS and/or PDF files, both of which are supported in Scribus.

Does a church music department need to create original scores for music? Well, the church could spend a few hundred dollars on Finale. Or the church could spend zero dollars and get MuseScore. Unless Finale does something that is absolutely needed by the music department that MuseScore cannot do, then why spend money that can be better used elsewhere?

What about church management software? Instead of spending money on church management software such as PowerChurch, Servant Keeper or the like a church should take a look at Churchinfo. The software may be run as a web based service on a local system or a remote web site and is accessed using a standard web browser such as Firefox.

What about church finance and payroll software? There are a few "free" financial applications for use on Linux. For accounting and payroll a church can get the "free" of cost but not "free" licensed NolaPro. (If anyone knows of a "free" and liberated financial package that includes payroll, please post a comment!)

So, let us total up the license cost of our FOSS software for the church office.

Linux Operating System on the desktop $0.00
Linux Operating System on the server $0.00 and GnomeOffice Office Suites $0.00
Evolution groupware client and e-mail client $0.00
F-Spot picture import and simple editing $0.00
Scribus Desktop Publisher $0.00
MuseScore music notation software $0.00
Churchinfo church management software $0.00
NolaPro accounting software with payroll $0.00
Total Cost $0.00

Yes, I know one's time is not "free" and there is a cost to invest time in learning new applications. These applications shown here are very similar to their counterparts on Microsoft and Apple systems. Thus the time investment would not be as great as some contend it may be. Once one has invested the time to learn them, that investment will last a lifetime. I submit that getting used to Microsoft Windows 7 and new Microsoft 2010 software would take a similar amount of time.

Yes, a church may need to hire a consultant to do the setup labor on a Linux server. More than likely, a church would need to hire a consultant for setup of a Microsoft server, should the church stay with Microsoft. Setting up a server of any type is more of a challenge than setting up a desktop system of any type.

To all my church friends, Merry Christmas, this article is my gift to you. (Here is another take on this issue for you church folk to consider.)

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Edit Thu Dec 9 13:02:40 CST 2010: Add URLs for Gnome and KDE.

Edit Thu Dec 9 17:51:36 CST 2010: Add URL to previous ERACC Web Log article.


Published by

Gene A.

Gene is a "Unix Guy", network technologist, system trouble-shooter and IT generalist with over 20 years experience in the SOHO and SMB markets. He is familiar with and conversant in eComStation (a.k.a. OS/2), DOS (PC, MS and Free), Unix, Linux and those GUI based systems from Microsoft. Gene is also a follower of Jesus (forgiven, not perfect), and this does inform his world view.

35 thoughts on “Linux: Tux Goes to Church”

  1. Greetings
    readers of this article may find interesting the Eleutheros Project, a Catholic Approach to information technology:

    Administration edit: a Google Translation version of that site is here. While there is a URL that supposedly loads an English version of the site, it did not work for us.

  2. Thanks a lot für this article! I would like to translate this article into German language and publish it in my blog. My blog has the topic: Linux in the churches. It would be nice to get your permission, Greg.

    1. Uli, you have my permission to translate this article and post it on your site. The only requirement is you link back here to the original article.

        1. If only I could read German. 🙂 I did run it through Google Translate, which gives "interesting" results since I know how the original English is written. 😉

  3. Good article, but I have to disagree with the KDE4.x sentiments. The latest KDE 4.x is more than good enough for general use. I also think that moving from Windows to KDE would be easier. The Gnome menus are just too different. I believe you should make new users aware of the options, but my experince is that new users choose KDE because the layout is closer to that of the Windows they are used to. Mandriva is the best choice!

  4. Thank you again, Gene! Of course I will link back to your original posting.
    I think it's great that you've been concerned with this topic. On we try to be a lobby especially for Linux and FOSS in the churches – there is much to do.

  5. I attend a small church in rural Wisconsin. It’s so small we join with another church to be able to afford the salary of a “half-time” pastor.
    In 2006 one member was throwing away a PC because her PC-support guy said it could not be fixed (Windows XP). She offered it to the church to replace the Windows98 machine the church was using. I reformated the hard drive and installed the then current FedoraCore 6. It was still running fine this year when the new pastor complained about a MS file not reading (*.rtf). So I installed Ubuntu 10.04 and it’s still running fine (576MB RAM).
    Now our church pianist is retiring. I don’t know her age but she married a returning WWII soldier in the 40s. Now I’m using MuseScore to make a CD that plays the piano and/or organ music for the Sunday hymns.
    Linux is more than enough here. Of course I’m the tech-guy for them. We even have web pages for the two churches.
    One thing I won’t allow though is for the church to use pirated software! I’ll have no part of that. I won’t support a church that steals and preaches the ten commandments.

  6. I have to say that I agree with you to some degree. I've been trying to get places to move to linux for years but no dice. I've tried Mandriva but my fav is Ubuntu hands down. It would still be OpenSuSE but the KDE UI is atrocious. And thanks for the heads up about MuseScore.

  7. Be honest… let your users decide which desktop they feel more confortable in because your bias is cheap and visible.
    KDE4.5 is excellent.
    Its core apps like Digikam, Gwenview, K3B, Amarok, ktorrent and so on is phenomenal.
    Throw in the classics like FF, OO, VLC and Thunderbird and I fail to see why you wouldnt recommend it.
    I switched my folks and my inlaws to Linux 1 year ago (i can do most things remotely now but Ive done almost no support) and since then I have added various friends of theirs as well as a few uncles and cousins. More than a dozen seniors in all. I let everyone a few days with one of my older laptops and had it loaded with two desktops and had them choose.
    KDE won 8 to 2. (one wasnt given a choice because the computer was old and we went light by default)
    What does it mean?
    Its all about giving people choice.
    The desktop has to feel confortable to THEM, not me or you. The USER should decide.
    I use XP, Vista 7, Mac and Linux at work and use KDE, E17 and XCFE at home so UIs are all the same to me and most tech professionals. But Billy Bob User who has only known Win95,XP is used to certain paradigms. There is a look and feel to GNOME (GTK) that goes past the fonts that feels 'alien' to Windows users. To certain people,a side or top taskbar throws them off completely (even though you could move them in XP by dragging them). Telling those people that a left sided min/max/close buttons are 'better' is as idiotic as is it subjective.
    I know its hard for people to let others make choices but we have an amazing advantage in free software with the choice of desktop environments.
    Leading to one's favorite one under the guise that the other 'isnt ready yet' is transparent and weak. Just say, there are these choices (GNOME, KDE and XCFE…) and say you prefer one. Its less insulting that way.

    1. Andre,

      Frankly, I am a fluxbox user. Period. I do not like Gnome or KDE. I am basing my recommendations on reviews from other people who did use KDE and switched to Gnome while keeping tabs on KDE. Honestly I have not read any new reviews in about two to three months. So, I admit my recommendation may be outdated at this point. Thank you for your point of view.

      Edit: Although I do admit I did use some KDE applications and had to dump them when they fell apart. Specifically Kontact and the address book.

  8.  I recently gave a course on using PC projectors in Church – I suggested that using Windows wasn't necessarily the best choice and I was shocked by the adverse reaction.  It was as if it was a crime to suggest that Windows wasn't the only choice!

  9. We have been using linux in our church for some time. We are running Mandriva/KDE on all of our machines.
    Here is a quick link to our churches software page. ( )
    We use it for our firewall/gateway, our projector presentations, desktop and office use, audio/video processing. Everything.
    OpenSong is great for the morning worship lyrics and scripture presentation. We use Audacity and kdenlive for video and audio processing for the internet. We have several computers in out youth center, and all are sent through a dansguardian filter to keep the internet safe and clean for them.
    Linux is great because of the cost, ease of use, and the ability to use it and scale it for any application you need. And the stability, no viruses, no hassle, just install it, set it up and use it for years. We’ll never go back.

  10. A non-free Office alternative is Softmaker Office ( it has an excelent compatibility with MS office docs (a LOT better than OO.o) and for non-profits, they have the option to pay only 30€ for all their computers. With all the savings using Linux, a Church can afford that price for a much better MS Office alternative. Great article! THX

  11. I'm not sure whether it has payroll built in (probably not), but the web based Zoho Business Suite has a phenomenal array of services available including invoice creation (along with Mail, Documents, Presentations, etc.)
    Great work helping churches along.  Now, if we could somehow get Public Libraries to switch, maybe local governments wouldn't have to shut them down.

  12. Erno, Looking at Zoho I saw nothing that indicated it supplies payroll. If it has general accounting applications like AP and AR I did not see that either. Perhaps I just overlooked them.

    Libraries should be interested in BiblioteQ on Linux or FreeBSD. Linux or FreeBSD for the stable and "free" operating system with BiblioteQ for the book and client database.

  13. Works for us.
    The big problem, and the only thing we still use windows for, is presentation software. Something that intigrates impress, video and song lyrics seamlessly in a dual head enviroment – We use Easy worship – Which believe me is not a great product. – Won't work under wine and none of the linux based apps are good enough – Someone write one!

    1. Ray, typically with FOSS development one scratches one's own itches. I suggest, in the spirit of FOSS, you and/or your church start a project to get this done. Then ask for developers to assist with the project. You already have a rough definition of what you want the software to do. Refine that and start the project. Finally, make sure that it is a project that non-believers could use too. That way, you have an opportunity to bring in non-believing developers and perhaps could use this as a "reach out" ministry. If you get something I can "blog" about then let me know and I will help get the word out.

  14. Take a look at EZFunds for Windows. There is an old version using a DBISAM database and a beta version using FIrebird. It is quick to install and un-unstall to get an idea of the intent of the programs. Also take a look at This code is opensource and written in free pascal and Lazarus. It is currently in development.  I developed a report printer to ouput postscript files but the project is currently in transition to a preview/print report system.  Go to to comment.

    Editor: fixed a problem in the not working “churchfunds/” URL. The first slash was replaced with a dot. The URL now works.

  15. For presentation software we use Open Song
    It can do everything we need and about the only thing it lacks is being able to present graphics on a video background like some pricey software. We've built an ample song database, order of worship and regularly use scripture displays. The pastor still uses PP for sermon highlights but the switchover is simple. We tried Impress but there were issues going between the two programs.

  16. I’m all for this. In fact, I’m going to start looking for a small church in the North Chicago area to help transition from Windows XP to Linux, probably Ubuntu CE server, which already has Churchinfo and Xiphos on it, as well as some other programs already installed.

  17. My recommendation for every non-profitable or profitable organizations is to use Linux because its totally free and easy. Its also stable as compared to Windows.

    Editor’s note: The inappropriate URL advertising Microsoft Windows software was removed from your comment header. Please do not advertise for other operating systems here. Thank you.

  18. It’s interesting that many churches seem to be starting to use Linux, I think in a market where it’s often difficult to push for expenditure on anything technical, the ability of Linux distros to often run on under-powered hardware makes them ideal for a Church setting where desktops have often been donated.

    I’d be interested to see a poll of how many churches are actually making use of each distro though, I’d imagine Ubuntu is a strong favorite with the new UI.

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