Step 1: Shared Web Hosting

It is very common for small and medium-sized nonprofit organizations to purchase a Web and email hosting account from an external virtual hosting provider. These accounts cost from $10 to $40 per month. This is because external hosting (also called virtual hosting) requires less support and is less expensive.

There are many virtual hosting providers, and the vast majority use an open source operating system, either Linux or BSD (another Open Source UNIX variant). They use these because they are more cost effective and stable, and it is easier to administer many machines with fewer staff, than using Windows.

If you are already using a virtual host for your website, and you did not specifically ask for Windows then you are very likely using the open source operating systems Linux or BSD already, and the provider is almost certainly using Apache. You also likely have access to open source application development using the quite popular languages PHP and Perl, and the database system MySQL. Thus, you already have experience with OSS, and use it everyday, and you can check off Step 1! (Step 5 of this section will explore more on how to do it yourself).

Step 2: Open Office and Mozilla within a Windows environment

Word processing, e-mail, Web browsing, and spreadsheets are the primary software programs used by nonprofit staff members. Fortunately, the proprietary software programs typically used to perform these functions all have well-developed open source alternatives that run on Macintosh and Windows platforms in addition to Linux.

You can download and install one or both of Open Office, or Mozilla. Open Office is a full-featured office suite that can read and write Microsoft Office files (.doc, .xls, .ppt), and Mozilla is an open source program that does Web browsing, e-mail and HTML editing. Both of these software packages install easily. They are easy to try out and evaluate.

Step 3: Small desktop trial

If some of your staff primarily use only the programs mentioned in Step 2, then you could experiment by installing Linux on an extra workstation on your internal network. In addition to providing the applications mentioned in Step 2, Linux comes with many other multimedia and productivity applications.

To evaluate using Linux on the desktop, you can take an old desktop that might be gathering dust in the corner (preferably a Pentium processor of 400 MHz or better), and install a version of Linux on it. It is probably easiest to go a major computer store and buy a boxed copy of the most recent version of any Linux distribution such as SuSE, Linux-Mandrake or RedHat. You can also download a CD image of a distribution called Knoppix , which you can boot from, and not affect your hard drive.

This will give you an idea of how to use Linux on the desktop, and introduce you to a wide range of OS packages for you to test out. It is a good way to understand how Linux works. In addition, there are several ways (see list below) to use Windows software on your Linux desktop, when that is needed.

Step 4: Network file and print server on a Windows network

One of the easiest ways to use Linux in a networked environment is to use it as a file and print server, to replace or retire the Windows server that you might have serving this function (Note: a dedicated file/print server is recommended for organizations with 7 or more staff). The case studies show examples of the use of Linux for just that purpose. SAMBA allows the Linux server to share network directories (folders) so that they can be accessed by Windows clients.

Step 5: Self-hosting of Web and e-mail/e-mail lists

As mentioned above in the virtual host section, Linux is very good at Internet server functions (web and e-mail hosting, and other internet server functions). If you have a DSL connection with a static IP address (you generally have to pay more for an account like that), or a T1 or higher broadband connection, then self-hosting your website and e-mail is quite easy using Linux. You can easily use an older server machine or desktop for this function. Again, you can find or download any distribution of Linux that you like.

If you do not want to take on the responsibilities and cost of hosting your server yourself, you can get a dedicated Linux server from many hosting providers, starting at around $99/month. With this kind of server you can install any specialized OSS that you might want to use in your organization.

Unlike MS Windows servers, Linux comes with all necessary server functions in the box, and there are no per-seat licenses for anything (Windows servers do come with IIS, the Windows web server that has no additional license fees, but all additional server software, like e-mail, requires additional costs). So unlike Exchange, where you have to spend $8 (discounted) to $40 per e-mail account, Linux will allow you to have unlimited e-mail addresses at no additional licensing costs. Linux comes with Apache, the most popular Web server. There are a number of mail servers that are available, including, Postfix and Exim.

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