Saturday, October 23, 2010

Guide For Switching To Linux At Your Church

My earlier post on how we migrated to using Linux raised some questions. Some wondered why other churches, schools and Christian ministries did not do this (though there are many that have). Others wondered how they could do it themselves.

If I were to visit another church, Christian school, mission field, or other ministry for the purpose of upgrading their technology and moving to open source software, here is a basic outline of what I would do. Hopefully, you can use this as a guideline for doing this in your own organization.

Assess what you already have

Many times, people do not necessarily need to upgrade to the latest and greatest hardware. Especially in places where money is tight, reusing hardware you already have can be a great savings. A 10-year old computer running a modern operating system is possible and easy with Linux.

Along with that, I would need to know what infrastructure is there. Is there already a network in place? Are the buildings already wired? What servers, if any, are there? What is the current backup strategy? What type of printers are you working with?

Are there any proprietary programs that your ministry depends on? If so, some thought is going to have to go into how to export and import that data into another program. In some cases, there just isn’t an open-source alternative. In an instance like that there are options such as dual-booting, virtual machines, WINE or keeping a computer as-is solely for those programs.

What are your goals?

Technology is a tool. I can use a really expensive sledgehammer to put a nail in the wall so that I can hang a picture, but because it is expensive doesn’t make it the right tool for the job. You may not need the latest and greatest computer out there for what you plan to do. But, you need to know what it is that you plan to do.

Do you really need to be playing those graphic-intensive 3D games on your computer at church? Will you be recording services to digital audio? Will you do any video editing at all? Will you be using a projector? How many computers do you want and where do you want to put them? You need to have an idea what you want to do with the computers in your ministry not only now but 5-10 years from now. Have a vision, or you will be disappointed.

3. Explore your options

One wonderful thing about Free and Open Source Software is that there are numerous options. This can be a two-edged sword, though! What works for others may or may not work for you. Ask questions and do research.

One thing that is consistently at the top of my list is the support and the community that surrounds the project. A good community is good assurance for the integrity and lifespan of any program. Linux itself would not have survived if it weren’t for the incredible community that has grown since its humble beginnings in 1991.

Speaking of support, if you haven’t already done so, it may be a good idea to enlist help from others who have done this before. As helpful as people are on the internet, or even a phone call, nothing beats having someone there in person to help when you are having trouble.

4. Setup a schedule

Once you have some goals in place and have settled on what your needs are, you need to schedule a time to put your plan in action. Will it be a gradual roll-out or will it be done all at once? Do you have a plan for backing up files and importing them to the new systems? I would make sure that it was done a time that would be the least disruptive. Communicate with those whom the migration affects. Don’t delete the pastor’s sermon notes just before he goes to print them!

5. Do it!

At this point the only thing left is to execute the plan that was developed. Download the distribution of your choice (I use Ubuntu, but there are many, many others that may fit your needs better), burn the CD, stick it in your computer, boot it up and follow the prompts. You may get stuck at some point in the process, – don’t be afraid of asking for help.

These are some rough guidelines for switching to Linux and open-source software in a ministry, or really, any other setting. I would like to flesh this out into a nice flowchart or more detailed checklist at some point in the future. What did I miss? What other areas would you focus in on? If you have suggestions or even helpful criticisms, let me know in the comments.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Resetting Your Expectations

You have certain expectations in your daily life. Expectations of yourself, your children, your family members, your friends, and your former spouse. Until you stop and think about it, you may not realize just how high your standards are for yourself and for those around you. To move forward into the future, you need to learn to reset your expectations.

Consider how much you are asking of yourself and how much you can actually handle. Also, do you expect more from others than is realistic under the circumstances of your divorce? If you find yourself getting upset because someone does not live up to a certain expectation of yours, then maybe it's time to back off and reset that expectation.

Dr. Jim A. Talley says, "You expected somebody to do something. That person didn't do it, and you get mad. What makes you even madder is that person doesn't seem to give a rip that he or she didn't do it. Now you're really hurt, and you begin to boil on the inside. You shift at that point to real bitterness. You have to go back and reset your expectations to what you can control and deal with. You can't force other people into your expectations."

Reset your standards to a place where you can function, and examine your motivation for having that expectation in the first place.

"People may think they are doing what is right, but the LORD examines the heart" (Proverbs 21:2 NLT).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How We Implemented Linux in Our Ministry

Like many other people, our church and, more importantly, our Christian school, ran the Windows operating system on all computers. We have about 15 computers in classrooms in addition to our computer lab of 25 computers. They were not the greatest computers to begin with – Pentium 3, 8GB HDD, 64-128 Mb of RAM – but that soon changed. We were given a large donation of 65 Dell Optiplex GX260s one year ago. Still not up to today’s standards, but a huge improvement over what we had and adequate for our current needs.

The problem

We had a problem, however, in our licensing. A number of years ago we purchased a 100-volume license for Windows 2000. This would still be good for our new(er) machines, but Windows 2000 is terribly outdated and unsupported. It then became a matter of stewardship. Should we outlay a large sum of money for XP which would soon be replaced by Windows 7? Sure, the hardware cannot handle 7, but it would eventually be replaced and the cycle would start again. We are a small ministry, not a large corporation that can afford to keep up with the costs and offer our students a quality education at the same time.

Compiz running on Ubuntu Linux

One of our computers running Ubuntu showing a 3d desktop cube

Our solution

There had to be a responsible alternative. And there was. The answer was found in the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Now, there are many variations (distributions) of Linux, but I have been using Ubuntu since 2006 on my personal computers.

So what is Ubuntu and why was it the solution to our problem? To quote from their website, “Ubuntu is an operating system built by a worldwide team of expert developers. It contains all the applications you need: a web browser, office suite, media apps, instant messaging and much more. Ubuntu is an open-source alternative to Windows and Office.”

Ubuntu resolved our situation in the following ways:


This is the most obvious benefit – Ubuntu is free. It does not cost anything but the time to download it, burn it to a CD and install it. The installation is straightforward and simple. It took my about 20 minutes to completely format and install for one machine. I could then clone that machine and copy it to others – or since CDs are so cheap, I was able to burn and install multiple copies at once.

This is a large part of where stewardship came in. With the large cost of licensing no longer an issue, we are now able to save that money and begin investing in good hardware. We are now at a place where we can move forward instead of trying to keep our heads above water.


We now have the ability to use our machines in whatever way is most beneficial. When I want to install a new program I type in a simple command – aptitude install name of program and it is done. The best thing about the freedom with the software is that I am not limited by licenses in the ability to do good to my neighbor.

We can also run many Windows programs directly on these computers through an application layer called WINE. We do this for our Rosetta Stone Online Language Learning program that our students use for foreign language. We run the Windows version of Firefox so that the microphone is recognized and supported. We could run MS Office 2003 which we have licenses for, but there is no need to do that since Ubuntu comes with, a compatible office suite.


Linux is inherently a very secure operating system, but the open-source model on which it, and other software is built, keeps it secure. Anyone can look into the source, find a bug and fix it. With software under a constant peer-review, errors and bugs are constantly being fixed and new features implemented. Although stable, none of it ever becomes stable. As a system administrator, I love the feeling that I am working with data and systems that are rock-solid. By the way, we don’t run anti-virus software on these computers because Linux is currently (virtually) impervious to viruses.

Ease of use

Wait, isn’t Linux that for super-geeks? In fact, in many ways Linux is extremely easy to use. When students arrived on the first day of school, they were excited that the old CRT monitors were replaced with new 15″ LCD monitors. They intuitively found where applications were (especially the games) and were able to get right to work. In fact, our only problems this year have been hardware-related issues.


Students just can’t seem to get away with much when I can constantly monitor their desktops with iTalc, fix problems with ssh, and check logs easily. I don’t play “Big Brother” with them, but they understand that we are trying to keep them accountable and helps foster an atmosphere of responsibility.


I was very comfortable using Linux on the desktop, but I had many questions when implementing Linux in our lab. My questions were posted at and quickly answered. The people were very friendly and helpful. There was even one gentleman who realized I was close in proximity and called me on the phone to walk me through some things. He offered to come over, but I had my problem solved by then. The Linux support was so good, they even helped me with problems on the Windows machines we had left! We haven’t yet had need of paid-for support, but I know it is always there as an option.

Linux is not for every person or ministry, but I encourage you to consider it. At the very least, consider implementing open-source solutions in your ministry. For most proprietary, paid-for applications there are free open-source alternatives – no matter what operating system you use. For us, the benefits were obvious: we have future-proofed our computer lab by not being locked into a vicious licensing cycle, we can use the money we saved on software and concentrate on upgrading our hardware, and we now teach our students concepts about technology instead of particular applications so that they can benefit no matter what college or career they enter after graduation.

Has Linux or other open-source software been beneficial for you or your ministry?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Not Sure About Church?

Many people look everywhere else for help before they go to the church, or they just don't give the church a chance. Perhaps you have had a bad experience there. Do not give up. The church is not a building or a social gathering. The church is a group of people whose lives have been changed because of Jesus. They are not perfect people, but their love and commitment to Jesus is the reason they gather together. There is room for you there. Find a church where the people love Jesus, and they will love you too.

"I'm not a big joiner of any group," says Joanne. "I like to do things by myself. I'm a very stubborn person. But the warmth that I felt from being back in church and learning to develop a more active relationship with my God was a special thing in that time of my life."

God promises in the Bible that He will supply all your needs. These needs include physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Give God a chance to use the people in His church to help you.

"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25).