is a small architectural practice in Melville,
Johannesburg, that has done the unthinkable: removed
all Microsoft software from their machines and
replaced it with Free and Open Source
alternatives. The only proprietary software
which they still run are old AutoCAD R14 licenses
built for the Microsoft Windows platform - and they
run it inside GNU/Linux.
This is a
transcript of an interview conducted by Architect
Africa and the practice's senior partner, with the
questions excluded for brevity.
"We didn't do
it so save money. That's a common misunderstanding
Software. We did it because it offers us a
better solution all round. The fact that it has
saved us some money is a bonus.
The practice has
been running on dual systems (Windows and GNU) for
some years but the majority of the desktops and CAD
workstations were Windows machines because we are
very fond of AutoCad and AutoCad has only ever been
released for the Windows operating system. That was
the only stumbling block in crossing over to the
We like AutoCAD R14
because it's paid for, because we are used to it and
because we can use it effectively and productively.
I've been using AutoCAD for over 10 years and
wouldn't dream of changing now. Why? For us it is a
drafting tool, nothing more. It works. Our 14's are
as good as your common garden variety 2000's or whatevers;
we've added on our own commands and modules over the
years and nothing we could buy now would improve on
our system... Quite the opposite.
We don't run 3D
software. That's for people who have a problem
drawing with a pencil and a piece of paper. The
computer has a very long way to go before it can
replace the architect's hand. In our practice we do
our 3D's and models by hand in the physical world.
It works better for us that way and being from the
old school, we can draw ... which helps.
But that too is set
to change in the next two or three years when
Autodesk hopefully releases a GNU/Linux version of
Revit. We would buy that. But we wont be holding our
breath. Revit is ahead of my time and needs its
edges tweeked a bit. We can wait, or maybe something
similar pops up at a quarter of the price before
We're not exactly
happy about running old Acads - it's an interim
measure. We've been looking at a German GNU/Linux
clone of AutoCAD which is quite impressive and very
cheap. Maybe we will go that route. For now AutoCad
R14 is what keeps our office in business.
It was decided in
2002 that we would run both operating systems in the
practice until we had tested and liked a GNU/Linux
AutoCad clone that made economic sense and could
improve on the old R14's.
Then, a couple of
months ago, I got a call from a very brash lady who
claimed to be calling from Microsoft South Africa. I
didn't like her attitude or her veiled threats to
invade my office and confiscate my computers - which
she assured me she had the legal right to do.
I asked her to send
me a letter explaining
her company's position, which she did. That
letter together with the Business
Software Alliance adverts on TV made me realise
how vulnerable my practice had become to external
mercenary threats and the willy nilly policies of
American corporations. I was being called a pirate
and they were behaving like bounty hunters. It was
ugly, I thought.
We had a variety of
MS-Office packages running on all the AutoCAD
workstations and all our admin machines on Open
Office and the odd Star Office as well. We also had
a large cardboard box with years' worth of licenses
and certificates. It would have taken us weeks to go
through all those pages and pages of legal mumbo
jumbo. It was easier to delete all MS-Office
installations and replace them with Open
Office. Which we did.
To compound the
problem we knew that the part time students that we
employ are forever installing their own (usually
pirated) software on our machines. Other CADs,
graphics software, etc. We could have a ton of
illegal software on the network, not know about it
and still get fined for it.
concern got us going and we decided to go all the
way and get rid of the operating systems as well and
then burn the cardboard box full of licenses. To do
that we needed to find a way of running R14 in Debian
We thought this
would be a stumbling block but it turned out to be
the opposite - not only did we get AutoCad R14
running on Debian GNU/Linux within 24 hours but it
actually ran faster! Can you believe that?
The advantages are
astronomical and the savings substantial. With a
GNU/Linux backbone we have great stability,
uniformity, control and scalability. The security
aspect is also greatly enhanced and we are now
immune to viruses which are mostly geared towards
attacking Microsoft operating systems. That's a big
plus for us as our CAD workstations are equipped
with email and FTP to ship off drawings and
documents through the Net. That meant that we
suffered regular virus attacks ... often with
serious consequences and long periods of down time.
Another great plus
is that our student workers can't install their
illegal stuff on our machines and put us at risk.
That is over and I feel good about that particular
I can say that this
migration has worked well for us because we planned
it with time and care. I'm sure it's not for
everyone and I don't recommend that you rush to burn
your licenses and ditch your software. You can't
rush these things. It's like software updates -
sometimes they cause more disruption than
good. So take your time - but do it.
Our network is our
most valuable resource and our most valuable asset.
We like to take good care of it and we like to keep
outsiders away from it. Now, for the first time
ever, we can say that we truly own it and control
it. We are proudly a GNU practice - a Free Practice.
Roll on freedom