Lawyers Can Leave Windows for Linux OS Ubuntu
January 13, 2011
By Jason Bland, guest technology writer – January 13, 2011
Over 10 years ago, I was working in my first company, which did a lot of commercial
software development, online programming and computer hardware manufacturing. We
even developed a way to stream live images to common color screen cell phones – with the
proper module. I, of course, can not claim brilliance for any of those accomplishments, as it
was not until much later that I could produce a functional line of code.
What I could do was write hundreds of pages of program features, map out the logic of how
the program was going to work, then pass on unnecessarily detailed project plans to the
talented programmers who would then turn my ramblings into functional software.
It was at that time that I started running into
boundaries within Windows. It was also during
that period that the company experienced a lot
of growth, making it necessary to purchase
new computer systems, Windows software,
and ship it across the globe to the developers
that were turning my ramblings into
applications. It was expensive, and as someone
who closely monitored the bottom line of the
company, it was wildly irritating.
Like most tech companies of the day, we owned a hosting company to take care of our
clients. Thus, I was familiar with the Linux server environment, a market that is still
dominated by Linux systems. If your law firm has a website, there is a good chance it has
Linux of some form in its lineage.
The growing open source community in 2001 was an exciting concept. To sum up a long
history, programmers continually ran into problems with retail software, which they of
course wanted to modify. Software developers like Microsoft kept their code closely held
(as it was their breadwinner) thus preventing any modifications. Thus, the open source
movement was born. For those of you not familiar with open source, this analogy may help.
You work with the law on a daily basis. There is a good chance you did not write the law,
but by the labors and efforts of others in the past, you now have the law to work with.
What if you had the ability to change the law depending on the case you were working on?
Does your client need additional rights? Give it to them. Does your client need a second
chance? Write a process doing just that. Then contribute those changes to the legal
community and other lawyers can then build upon those laws and do the same.
It would probably be chaotic if laws were open source, but when it comes to software, open
source contributions allow technology to rapidly evolve. Tired of your web browser?
Change it. Then other programmers build upon that and it keeps getting little upgrades
here and there. More users, more contributions, faster evolution and ultimately, a better
With these applications floating around the Internet, driven by volunteer contributions,
there are generally no license fees. This means you can download, use, and modify the
application as much as you would like without paying a penny. Of course, if you are like
most users and do not possess that programming knowledge to contribute, you can always
send feedback when you find a missing feature or have an idea. Then someone in the
programming community may pick it up and put it in a future release. Also, you can
contribute money to open source projects to help them maintain server space, bring on
paid programmers for further development, and still spend less money than buying paid
Open source software is also more secure than paid programs. If there is a security
vulnerability, the developer community will find it. When you have thousands of people
looking at software code instead of a small quality control department of a development
company, you are more likely to find and fix errors before the general user discovers them.
Also, many companies give away open source software and charge for support to their
enterprise level users.
Now that you have received your crash course in open source technology, let’s move
While I may have spent those years with geeks and gadgets, my own computer usage was
always pretty basic. I never possessed the knowledge to change computer software and my
hardware knowledge was also ominous at best.
But I could bring in new clients, raise capital for projects, and run a good company, and that
is what I spent most of my computer usage focusing on. Marketing, communication,
writing, email, and so on.
To fully understand how an operating system works, you need to look at it as two layers.
You have the main operating system, which on Windows used to be MS Dos and later, the
NT framework, which is what XP is based on. Then you have the desktop. The desktop is
the pretty user interface that you are used to. The start menu, the desktop icons, etc.
With Linux, you have the Linux kernel then you can run Gnome, Kde, or other desktops to
give you that easy to use graphical experience that you are used to.
In my experiments, I have tested Red Hat versions, then later Red Hat’s Fedora project,
Open SuSe, FreeBSD, CentOS (a fantastic web server environment), Debian, and then the
one that always gave me hope for an easily deployable desktop solution, Ubuntu. 
Named after the Bantu word, Ubuntu, the word is best summed up by Archbishop
Desmond Tutu meaning “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of
others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper
self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole…” 
In other words, “A single straw of a broom can be broken easily, but the straws together
are not easily broken.”
Since the operating system is open source with a worldwide team of contributors, the name
The first released of Ubuntu was in 2004. The project is sponsored and managed by
Canonical Ltd but most funding comes from the Ubuntu Foundation. Canonical offers
support plans for business users making the switch. You can learn more about the project,
company, and development team on their website. 
What turned me on to Ubuntu as a viable, easily deployable operating system is its “sudo”
root user. In Linux-based operating systems, the root user is allowed to install software,
configure settings, etc. As a basic user, that means you have to keep logging out then
logging in as root to install software. Terminal users who are fluent in commands do not
find this a problem, but the average user who uses the graphical user interface of a desktop
will find the process somewhat irritating. I certainly did.
However, Ubuntu solved that problem, so now you can install software without having to
log in as a root user. Some advanced configurations still require a root login, but most
attorneys will not encounter such settings.Why is it now possible to leave Windows?
Most lawyers are managing most processes online or in standard office applications. In fact,
when you get on a different operating system like Mac OS X or Ubuntu, you will find
FireFox and suddenly experience a feeling of familiarity. With most of your daily work
online, transitioning from Internet Explorer to FireFox or Chrome will take no time at all to
adjust to and you can immediately proceed with business as usual.
As for office applications, Oracle’s freely downloadable OpenOffice 3.2 (comes installed on
Ubuntu) is compatible with Microsoft Office files and comes with a word processor,
spreadsheet application, presentation creator (compatible with MS PowerPoint), and
OpenOffice Draw, a more functional desktop publishing tool than Microsoft Publisher (not
compatible with MS Publisher formats). OpenOffice is available on Windows, Mac, and
Linux operating systems, so you could download it on your Windows computer before
committing to it on a Linux installation. We actually switched to OpenOffice four years ago
and have not looked back, with only a few of our computers still running Microsoft Office.
If you are one of the many law firms attached to Corel WordPerfect, WordPerfect 8 runs on
You may also download a program in Ubuntu (and other Linux versions) called Wine, which
is a Windows emulator. Through Wine, you can run some Windows applications on your
new Linux operating system. Personal successes include Microsoft Office 2000 (just to say
I could) and iTunes (with a couple bugs). Many forum participants have noted that Adobe
Creative Suite products run with striking performance on Ubuntu using Wine.
Important software that does not offer a Linux alternative or is not able to run on Wine is
Quickbooks 2005 and newer and the Dymo Postage Printer. Dymo’s label printer works
great with “gLabels Label Designer” but it cannot print postage.Case Management
In my experience, I always hit one road block of a program that I could not live without
that could not run on Linux. With many services running on the web, this is becoming less
of a problem. For law firms, complete case management suites are available online and will
thus run independent of your operating system.
We researched two online case management systems. You will of course need to contact
them with questions related to your law firm’s specific needs.Houdini ESQ – SaaS
The online legal management system offers online solutions for document management, e-
mailing, client access, billing and much more for $65/month per seat (user). They offer an
online demo that is worth testing. Clio Practice Management
Clio is an online practice management suite that offers document management, scheduling,
billing, and other commonly needed features. Clio also advertises interfaces for iPhone,
Android, and Palm Pre, which is extremely helpful for the mobile lawyer.
Clio is $49/month per attorney and $25/month per non-attorney staff member, making it
less expensive than Houdini. You will of course have to compare the two, as each law firm’s
needs are different. It may also be a good idea to check with your state laws regarding
storage of confidential information. QuickBooks
With many law firms using an autoschediastical collection of applications to manage their
practice, billing is often taken care of by Quickbooks. Quickbooks, as mentioned above, does
not run on Ubuntu. However, they do offer an online equivalent to Quickbooks Pro called
Quickbooks Online Essentials for $25 per month. However, it does not support exporting to
Intuit’s popular corporate tax software, TurboTax. The sales representative assured us
that this feature would soon be available. Google Apps
Google Apps is the professional version of Gmail. For $50 per year per user, your law firm
can use Google Docs, Google Email (customized to your law firm’s domain name), and a
suite of business applications to mobilize your firm and move everything to the web. The
paid version has “forced SSL” meaning that all activity within the Google Account is done
through a secured connection. No Need to Commit
Changing operating systems is a pretty big deal. Its much like moving into a new office and
having to learn where everything is. Much of our daily computer tasks are second nature
and done without any conscious thought. However, the logical placement of menu items in
the Gnome Desktop on Ubuntu makes the learning process pretty simple.
Ubuntu makes it easy to gradually migrate to the new system. You can install Ubuntu on
your computer along with your Windows Operating System. The Ubuntu installer takes
care of this for you and you do not lose any of your Windows data. When turning on your
computer, you simply select the operating system you wish to log in into. This allows you to
familiarize yourself with Ubuntu with the option of logging into the Windows half of your
computer when time is crucial and you are hung up on a certain tasks in the new operating
system. It is of course advised that you back up your files before attempting a dual
operating system installation. 
You can also easily install a virtual box within Ubuntu, which runs a Windows operating
system within the Ubuntu desktop that you can access when you need to run Windows only
software. This is more convenient than having to boot into Windows.
I would recommend installing Ubuntu on your laptop first. Start getting used to the system
with basic office functions (writing, spreadsheets, email, etc). Then, once you are
comfortable, try it on your office desktop and install it on secondary computers in your
office. No need to to go cold turkey on Windows.Benefits of a Law Firm Switching to Ubuntu
After reading this article, you may be wondering why an attorney would want to switch
from their Windows environment to Ubuntu or any other operating system. We have
broken that answer up into a few categories.Cost
A small law office that has five computers could save the following in software licenses.Windows 7
– $199.00 per computer ($1,000.00)Ubuntu Desktop
– $0.00Microsoft Office 2010
– $300.00 per computer ($1,500.00)OpenOffice 3.2
– $0.00Symantec Anti-Virus
– $185.00 5 user licenseKlamAV
– $0.00 (since Linux systems are not prone to viruses, many users believe use of
anti-virus software is not necessary as it predominately scans for Windows vulnerabilities.
We believe it is better to be safe.)Adobe Acrobat
– $450.00 per computer ($2,250.00)PDF Editor
– $0.00 (open source PDF editor)
If a law office with five computers upgraded to Ubuntu rather than Windows 7 and
additional software, they would realize a first year savings of $4,935.00.Freely Available Stable Software
Most applications needed in Ubuntu can be found in the Ubuntu Software Center. Need to
edit images? Download GIMP. Manage your music collection at the office? Download
Amarok. Edit a video? Download OpenShot or Pitivi. All of these applications can be simply
selected in Ubuntu Software Center. Then you click “install” and it automatically downloads
and installs the software for you. Most of the 34,585 programs available in the Ubuntu
Software Center are free, and many are exclusive to Linux operating systems.Windows Networking
Ubuntu also supports networking with other computers (requires Samba, which can be
downloaded in the Ubuntu Software Center). In fact, in under an hour, we successfully
networked a Ubuntu notebook, with an Apple MacBook Pro running OS X, and a Windows
XP Professional desktop. The MacBook and Ubuntu notebook immediately connected, but
we did have to change the firewall settings and reboot the Windows XP Professional
computer. Ubuntu Cloud
Once you have Ubuntu installed, you can create a free UbuntuOne account and have a
cloud. This is basically a folder on your computer, laptop, cell phone, secondary computer,
etc, that is synced with all devices you connect with UbuntuOne. The free version gives you
2GB of storage and the paid version gives your 20GB of storage for $30 per year. The
Android and iPhone add-on is $40 per year.
For most users, the free version or $30 per year 20GB upgrade will suffice (my OpenOffice
files and a few music tunes I like to keep with me have yet to extend the 2GB limit). I
personally have become dependent on this feature as I can work on documents from home,
the office, or take my work with me to a WiFi friendly pub (after hours, of course). The file
is saved in the same folder so I do not have to upload to a server, e-mail the document to
myself, or upload to a document management system. I open and edit it like any other file
and it just works. Secure and Stable
Linux is a more secure environment as it is not prone to most viruses that traditionally
attack Windows operating systems. This is one of many reasons why most web servers are
With the large developer communities constantly upgrading features and developing new
ones, your operating system is always evolving. Plus, when your operating system
upgrades, it does not cost anything and the system you upgrade to generally works better
than the one you upgrade from.
With so many daily tasks of the average lawyer taking place online, perhaps now is the time
to change operating systems, get introduced to the cloud, and unlock yourself from your
office. The transition will experience an issue here and there but the overall user
experience is worth it.Sources
8 ) http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/business/index.html
12) Other Linux Releases and Mentioned Software
a. Red Hat
a. PDF Editor
b. GIMP Image Editor
c. AmarokThe SEOLawFirm.com Newsroom extends editorial freedom to their staff and guest
writers thus the views expressed in this column may not reflect the views of
SEOLawFirm.com, Adviatech Corp., or any of its holdings, affiliates, or advertisers. This
article was written as a topic of interest for attorneys and was not influenced or
sponsored by any of the companies, programs, or projects mentioned in this article.
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Tags: adobe acrobat, case management, Clio Practice Management, cloud, gimp, gnome,
Google Apps, Houdini ESQ – SaaS, kde, law firm management, lawyer technology, legal
management, linux, linux desktop, microsoft windows 7, open office, openoffice, pdf,
powerpoint, quickbooks, ubuntu, ubuntu cloud, windows, word perfect 8
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