UbuntuMy brother just switched from Windows XP to Ubuntu, a free, Linux-based operating system. He basically just uses it for everyday computing tasks, like web, e-mail, etc., but he piqued my curiosity.

You can download a CD-based version of Ubuntu so you can try the operating system without affecting your system. Pretty neat. I did, and fiddled around with it for a few minutes. The OS is beautiful. For running off a CD drive, it’s also quite fast. Ubuntu is quite intuitive, but although it behaves in many ways like Windows, it includes some of the better features of OS X, as well.

Here’s what (I think) you need to handle a law practice:

  • Personal organizer (e.g. Outlook) for appointments, tasks, e-mail, and contacts;
  • Internet browser;
  • Software to track time and generate time sheets;
  • Word processer and office suite;
  • Accounting software; and
  • Working peripherals, such as my ScanSnap s1500, external drive, and printer.

The browser and office suite are taken care of in Linux. Mozilla Firefox is at least as good as Internet Explorer, if not superior. Mozilla also has two scheduling programs, Sunbird and Lightning. I haven’t played with either, but they don’t look to equal Outlook’s capabilities.

Novell’s Ximian Evolution is better, but after fiddling around with it a bit, it seems to lack the ability to link contacts, tasks, and appointments to one another. It does look like Evolution is probably flexible enough to work well enough, and it does support Palm devices.

I haven’t looked around much to see whether there is a good task timer solution for Linux. But even though OS X is Linux-based, I don’t know how difficult it is to recompile a program built for OS X for a regular Linux “distro” (a distro–distribution–is a version of Linux). In any case, a well-designed spreadsheet will certainly do the trick in a pinch.

As for the office suite, OpenOffice.org is the equal of Microsoft Office in many ways. The word processor and spreadsheet programs are particularly nice to use. There are small difference in the way they handle some things–mainly because OpenOffice is constructed with more emphasis on the use of styles–but OpenOffice is definitely a replacement for Office.

Accounting software is available. GnuCash and APPGEN are the two I found. I haven’t used either, but I’m told anyone used to accounting software like Billing Matters Plus ought to have little trouble using either one. It always comes down to trust accounting, of course.

Finally, the peripherals. Ubuntu found my printer and external drive without trouble. Networking is, of course, incredibly simply in Linux. I didn’t try to get my Fujitsu ScanSnap document scanner running in Ubuntu, but that is pretty much the only question mark.

I am working on weaning myself off of Time Matters, anyway (that’s a story for another post and another day). My brief look at Ubuntu has me thinking about going to Linux now, instead of switching to Vista or a Mac down the line. I just need to figure out how to export all my TM client data, and I wouldn’t even need to dual boot with Windows.

Are any of you running Linux instead of Windows or OS X? I would love to hear how you are getting by, and about the software options you have adopted.

Stay tuned to see if I go off the deep end.