Rule No. 1 when deploying any open source desktop application is to take it slow. Roll it out, but let employees keep their closed source apps at hand for a length of time, in case of emergency. Gradually disabling features in the closed source app while enabling features in the open source software will move adoption along. Most productivity apps mimic the familiar Office structure, but for open source with a completely new interface, invest in training. Otherwise, you'll waste expensive help desk capacity.
When considering newer and more specialized open source end-user apps, realize that they may not have the level of support we enjoy for established apps like OpenOffice or Firefox. They may have a much smaller user base, fewer contributors, or simply be very complex. In such cases, open source desktop application support should be implemented in the same way you'd support a new piece of closed source software. Having IT use the same apps as the end users they support is a must.
Still, no matter how well planned your move, unfamiliar user interfaces, quirky behavior, and platform issues can challenge even the most experienced IT staff. For example, many PHP applications run very well on open source operating systems but are difficult if not wholly unusable on Windows Server. Take the open source SugarCRM, which was very slow on Windows until the community stepped up to provide better testing and support.
Given this, IT may do fine supporting server-based open source software that's running on an open operating system but stumble when it's running on a closed source desktop operating system such as Windows.
Our take here: As more new netbooks and other PCs come with the option to have Ubuntu Linux installed, and given the rave reviews that Ubuntu is receiving when put against Windows Vista, we expect to see more Linux desktops in the next few years. In the vanguard of this movement are national and local governments worldwide as well as nonprofits--organizations that need to exercise extreme budget control. A Canadian nonprofit association that promotes use of free software, for example, filed a motion before the Quebec Superior Court over the $25 million the government spent on proprietary software from February to June 2008.
As tax revenue shrinks, we expect this trend to continue.
If you can swing it, now may be the time for intrepid organizations to snatch up high-quality IT talent, move to open source software, and reap the benefits of lower TCO for years to come.