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Linux in the Arts

Last month, the French national police announced plans to convert all 72,000 of their desktop computers to Linux and become one of the largest open-source installs in the world. This tremendous vote of confidence is a clear signal that Linux is ready for general-purpose enterprise computing and can be considered a serious option for organizations of various sizes and structures. Only within the last few years have free, open-source projects become – dare I say – marketable to a typical user who needs to get things done without worrying about the technical details of their system.

Taken from the point of view of a small, budget-conscious arts organization, there are several advantages over a typical commercial operating system:

  • Cost: Free! The Linux Foundation is itself a non-profit, and the principal architects are committed to keeping Linux free forever.
  • Customizability: From certain perspectives, Linux may seem like a fragmented ecosystem, with hundreds of unique varieties (known as ‘distributions’) available at any one time. Many of these distributions are purpose-built for specific industries or fields, but several are designed around an easy and intuitive user experience. Ubuntu and its offspring (Mint,Elementary, etc.) are dead-simple to install and configure, easy to expand, and easy to understand, given experience with any other operating system. It’s also possible to build your own distribution, making it quick and painless to set up new computers with the right mix of software for the organization.
  • Hardware compatibility: Contrary to popular belief, Linux has the best hardware supportof any modern operating system. It runs reasonably well on older systems that have long since been unsupported by their original operating systems, meaning cash-strapped organizations can take advantage of nearly-free hardware but still get all of the security benefits of a modern operating system.

Despite the benefits, an outright switch into Linux probably isn’t the smoothest transition for an office already familiar with another system. Luckily, it can be taken in stages, as much of the open-source software made for Linux is also available for Windows and Mac. The French police’s announcement comes at the end of years of gradually adopting such software, to the point where their users were comfortable enough that changing the underlying system wasn’t disruptive. Additionally, with the growing availability of viable web-based software like Google Docs, organizations are increasingly free from the constraints of a specific operating system’s desktop software.

I am somewhat surprised at how difficult it is to find examples of arts organizations who have adopted Linux or other open-source platforms. From what I can tell, the open-source arts management ecosystem is still fairly small, but there are a few companies pioneering the sector’s own movement (notably Fractured Atlas, who have released the source code of their ticketing and event management system).

Now that larger enterprises are throwing their weight behind Linux, I suspect we will soon see a number of arts organizations follow suit.

This post was written using LibreOffice running on CrunchBang Linux.
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