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 OpenOffice.org 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. OpenOffice.org 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 OpenOffice.org 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 OpenOffice.org 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.