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Linux for Lawyers: Can You Switch? Should You?

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

As someone who "grew up geek," I always had the desire to try Linux. Unfortunately, the last time I had spare time was in high school, and Red Hat Linux wasn't compatible with my six-year-old desktop computer. After a few frustrating hours, I gave up, reinstalled Windows 2000, and then spent the next few years in blissful ignorance of the Linux landscape, as Windows XP and 7 were both masterpieces.

Fast-forward to today, and Windows 8 is a much-reviled abomination of an OS that, in my limited time with it, has been clunky and annoyingly unusable on a traditional mouse-and-keyboard desktop.

If there was ever a time to switch to one of the free varieties of Linux, it's now. Plus, it give me something to blog about, and something new for all you techie attorneys to consider.

The Setup

Not much to say here. Ubuntu Linux is one of the most popular, and frequently updated, versions of the Linux OS. You download it from Canonical’s website, and you can either use the Windows-based installer (super easy) or download a CD copy, burn it, and then install from the CD drive (moderately easy).

I did the latter, as I wanted the latest beta version (13.04). It took surprisingly long to install, and even after it completed, my netbook was super-sluggish for the first few hours (likely due to the operating system downloading and installing updates and drivers — all automatically, I might add).

Anyone moderately computer proficient can handle this, especially with the hundreds of guides available online.

Initial Impressions

It’s not nearly as fast as I expected. In the olde days, Linux had a reputation as insanely speedy. The experience now, on this admittedly ancient netbook, is comparable to Windows 7, speed-wise. The pre-installed LibreOffice is a nice touch. The Word, Excel, and PowerPoint equivalents all do exactly what you need. Everything else you might use (Firefox, Google Chrome, PDF readers, etc.) have Linux versions or near-equivalents. If you’re a Quickbooks user, they also have an online version.

One Week Later

Right now, gun to my head, I’d choose Linux over Windows 8. Though the next update for Windows will bring back a pseudo-start button, and fix a lot of usability issues, Ubuntu Linux is much more keyboard-and-mouse PC friendly. I’m even writing this blog post on my Linux-running netbook.

That being said, if I had employees in a law firm, instead of dealing with the headache of having them learn a new OS (a minor headache, admittedly, as Ubuntu is really easy to use), I’d probably just track down a few copies of Windows 7. That may not be an option in a few years, but for now, it’s the easiest option.

Also, a note on law-specific software: if you haven’t noticed, legal software is moving “to the cloud.” Research, case management, and even basic accounting can all be done in a web browser, such as Chrome. This means you can use Macs, Linux, or a mobile OS such as Android (also based on Linux) or iOS to run your law office.

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