This is a read-only archive. Find the latest Linux articles, documentation, and answers at the new Linux.com!

Linux.com

Feature: Business

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

By Susan Linton on July 17, 2008 (9:00:00 PM)

Share    Print    Comments   

Nathan Zale Dowlen objects to proprietary software, so when he opened his new law office, he outfitted it with Ubuntu Linux and open source software. Cost was the main factor in his decision at first, but he has since come to appreciate the security found in FOSS and the ease of use found with Ubuntu.

Dowlen has used Linux and open source software since 2006, when he attended the Nashville School of Law, and had no trouble with compatibility, since "OpenOffice.org will open almost anything thrown at it." He recorded lectures with Audacity and even found that his "Linux based laptop did a better job of automatically finding printers on the school's wireless network than when it ran Windows."

When Dowlen passed the Tennessee Bar Examination earlier this year and opened his own law office in White House, Tenn., he had no qualms about deploying Linux and open source software. He figures, "If a law practice starts with Linux, it's easier than trying to convert one to Linux, because much of the software that runs the legal profession is Windows-based and that's what the attorneys get used to. Today, most law offices that run on Linux started that way. So the challenge is finding the best way to bring Linux and the legal applications together."

However, "cost was my first concern," Dowlen admits. "The hardest hurdle for small businesses to clear is startup costs, so I began exploring Linux due to the savings. When I started looking at the potential of expanding a law office, running a server or servers and deploying multiple desktops, and the cost of Windows licenses and Windows server products, the price just got obscene. I figured out that if I could adapt Linux to my needs I could eliminate many of those costs.

"Beyond cost, I have learned that Linux is much more secure than Windows or Mac. It is clearly a better choice for the law office from that perspective. There's a lot of frustration in the legal community about the security weaknesses and costs of Windows, so there are more and more offices venturing away from Windows."

There is another advantage that many might not consider. Dowlen says, "Using Linux keeps some vendors off your back. When the Lexis and West reps come calling and peddling the latest 'must have' software, if you tell them you only use Linux, they usually don't have a response, so there is additional cost savings as well."

The distribution of choice for the Dowlen Law Firm is Ubuntu Linux because it "has both 32-bit and 64-bit versions" and "probably the largest community of support." Dowlen also appreciates being able to "load programs from their large repositories, the CNR repository, [and] manually without even trying to use a terminal window." But the main reason he prefers Ubuntu is the distribution's "business mindset. They have a goal of market penetration and they want to be pre-loaded on manufactured machines. Many other distros just want to configure the operating system as they want, when they want. This is not helpful for the small business or the advancement of Linux."

Some of the software he uses daily includes:

  • Evolution -- to manage calendar and contacts.
  • Gnome Pilot -- keeps a Treo 650 and Evolution in sync.
  • Firefox 3 -- for most browsing.
  • SeaMonkey -- for Legal Research, separate from browsing.
  • Gscan2pdf -- to run two scanners.
  • OpenOffice.org -- for word processing and spreadsheets.
  • Adobe Reader 8 -- for PDF handling.
  • Cryptkeeper -- for file encryption.
  • Simple Backup -- to keep files backed up.

I wondered if there might be any concern over the skillset when hiring secretaries and administrative aides, but Dowlen says he isn't worried. "Minimal retraining will be required. The Linux desktop and programs are just as intuitive as Windows or Mac. In some instances they are better, so that is not a problem, and I won't have to deal with generating buy-in. They'll simply start with Linux, and that is it. The nice thing about running Linux is that I won't have to deal with them downloading virus-ridden 'cutesy' programs and trying to run them on my machines. I also won't have too much concern with viruses that they may introduce through their email."

Dowlen is interested in open source issues, but doesn't think he'll see too many cases involving them in his neck of the woods. He office currently handles "your average day-to-day case, such as injury cases, criminal cases, and that sort of thing."

Dowlen says, "I may be a bit of a pioneer when it comes to Linux in the law office, but I'm not the only one. Linux may actually make it into law offices through the courts, because more and more courthouses are starting to migrate to Linux and open source software based solely on the cost."

Share    Print    Comments   

Comments

on Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Note: Comments are owned by the poster. We are not responsible for their content.

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.215.67.34] on July 17, 2008 11:34 PM
I wasn't aware that Adobe Acrobat Reader was open source...

That's the problem with an "all open or not at all" approach to computing - some people don't want to play along, and many of them are big players in the world of interoperability.

#

Re: Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 206.222.198.12] on July 18, 2008 01:23 AM
Acrobat Reader isn't open source but, there is a free version for Linux. Personally I find it two slow and stick to xpdf but, that is personal choice.

#

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 200.83.9.182] on July 18, 2008 03:49 AM
Does anybody know something about Libre Software for Linux, useful for preparing, structuring and presenting cases?

#

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 211.27.179.28] on July 18, 2008 06:53 AM
Ok Acrobat Reader is closed source. But since day one its format has been 100 percent documented that is reading and open to everyone for inspection. So Question what one is more important the source code to the program or the storage format it uses?

That is a nice hard question.

#

Re: Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 208.74.247.253] on July 21, 2008 07:20 PM
"So Question what one is more important the source code to the program or the storage format it uses?

That is a nice hard question."

what hard about that?Having an open format is more import.Otherwise is it even possible to make other programs that can use it?
It certainly doesn't make it easier.

#

Nice Article

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.191.215.166] on July 18, 2008 07:34 AM
This is a terrific article about Linux in a real-world professional office. It's good to actually list the software used rather than to make some general reference to open source software.

#

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.77.17.189] on July 18, 2008 08:44 AM
Are there OpenOffice.org Writer templates for common legal documents? I understand that one reason that many law office use WordPerfect is that at one point WordPerfect made deep inroads into the legal market and as a result large libraries of forms and templates exist.

#

Re: Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.13.140.46] on July 18, 2008 02:31 PM
I have seen a few, but normally you wind up reworking one that is a .doc from some template source, such as West or Lexis or another attorney. Zale

#

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.248.89.66] on July 18, 2008 04:15 PM
Why use Acrobat when it's proprietary and slower than the free alternatives that come with most Linux installs?

#

Re: Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.237.174.94] on July 18, 2008 05:18 PM
Because, unfortunately, as is the case with not-exactly-open standards dominated by a single company, some people try to get clever with PDF and do things that only work in acrobat reader. I went through this recently when buying a house, I got some "special sauce" PDFs from my realtor via some kind of website, they would not open in xpdf, kpdf, or evince. Just adobe reader.

#

Re: Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 166.214.160.67] on July 18, 2008 05:31 PM
I use the "Find" feature a lot in PDF documents and it is not present in all free software. I use this feature as a companion to Google. Sometimes, Google searches turn up PDF documents. The "Find" feature allows me to pursue my Internet down to word level.

#

Re: Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.13.140.46] on July 18, 2008 09:32 PM
I like it better. Some of the other products don't let me fill in the blanks of some of the court's forms that I have to use. Adobe Reader does.

Zale

#

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.167.106.34] on July 18, 2008 05:11 PM
I am not sure why he is scoffing at Lexis or Westlaw. Yes, they probably want to sell you an app for the desktop, but those services are available via the web. (Using firefox is O.K.). They are expensive, but isn't a lawyers time also expensive?

Glad to see someone take the leap. I would like to know of any law-specific software written for linux.

#

Re: Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.13.140.46] on July 18, 2008 09:24 PM
Their research applications are web based, but their practice management applications are not. I actually use Fastcase.com for my research. It is based on open source software (and case repositories).

Zale

#

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 60.195.53.137] on July 18, 2008 06:05 PM
If I am not mistaken,I think I read somewhere that Adobe has decided to release specs of latest iterations of Flash and PDF formats and ISO will handle PDF specs from now on.FOSS camp is likely to follow up and soon we will see openFlash and openPDF just like openJDK.I guess this may satisfy the FOSS purists.

#

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.4.194.240] on July 18, 2008 07:56 PM
What does he use for invoicing/billing? One of the hurdles I have getting small businesses over to Linux is a good Quickbooks alternative (GNU Cash is not there yet).

#

Re: Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.13.140.46] on July 18, 2008 09:22 PM
I may use Quickbooks online. I've not needed it yet, since I don't have that much business right now. Also, QB online claims to only run on IE, so I may have to test out that claim. Other web based alternatives are Websabe.com and moneytracin.com.

Zale

#

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.1.51] on July 20, 2008 03:51 AM
The problem I find when dealing with Lawyer type customers in my Linux Support business is that there are no alternatives to some of their proprietary legal applications they use. I have researched it extensively and they have no choice but to stick with Windows, and I have no choice but to pass them on to a Windows based IT support company.

I lose a client, they don't gain any security benefits. The only winner is the Windows support provider who takes on the job and gets the regular calls due to a wonderfully unstable and un-secure operating system.

#

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Towncat on July 21, 2008 12:56 PM
Maybe going to Windows full time is not the only solution. Here's my example. I am a lawyer with my own office, similar to Zale. I've been practicing since 2002, and I only used Linux ever since.

The problem came last year when electronic company registration was introduced. There simply is no smart card reader accepted by the system (used for electronically signing documents) that would have a linux driver, and all the special software (for signing and filling out requests) is developed under Windows. This is the only reason why I was forced to set up a Windows box. (I wish I had the necessary coding skills and time, I would produce similar software for Linux, and would release it under GPL, but as I am a lawyer this is out of question currently :-).

BUT, all my other computer needs (data storage, word processing, calendar, email, browsing, etc) remain under Linux. I even thought of using VMWare instead of a separate Windows box, just to keep everything under Linux...

#

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.102.178.254] on July 21, 2008 08:42 PM
I am an attorney and also the network admin at my firm. We have just completed our migration to Ubuntu on the desktop and servers.

As others have noted, some lawyer-specific apps are only written to run on Windows. To deal with this, and because running them under WINE was either not working or too buggy, we set up a single Windows terminal server in VMware, and everyone uses rdesktop to terminal in. WordPerfect, ACT!, Timeslips, HotDocs, Fast-Tax, etc. all run on the Windows virtual machine. Web browsing, pdf viewing, email, etc. are done on the Ubuntu desktops. So far so good. The next phase is to integrate some replacements for the Windows-only apps like openSugarCRM instead of ACT!, etc., and to create a KnowledgeBase Wiki on our intranet.

Someone mentioned that QuickBooks Online Edition only runs in IE. Our experience bears this out. It relies on ActiveX controls to function. I've been curious if it will work with IE running on Ubuntu under WINE, but have not tested this yet.

#

Proprietary software? Counsel objects

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 208.0.230.109] on July 23, 2008 08:35 AM

I don't know whether you have heard of the following options. MyBooks claims to be QuickBooks compliant/compatible in that there is supposed to be a migration tool available. Also, there is PostBooks which includes CRM/ERP, however, it seems better geared towards a manufacturing-type entity, plus it looks a bit "heavy". A couple of others are LedgerSMB and PBooks

MyBooks - http://www.appgen.com/site/mybooks_professional.htm
PostBooks - http://sf.net/projects/postbooks
LedgerSMB - ledgersmb.org
PBooks - http://www.pbooks.org/blog/open-source-accounting/

#

This story has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.



 
Tableless layout Validate XHTML 1.0 Strict Validate CSS Powered by Xaraya