A few years ago it became obvious that my old faithful Windows XP Thinkpad, with a whopping 1.5 GB RAM, was not up to running all the software I needed it to run. It was, of course, a great excuse to buy a Windows 7 Thinkpad T520 before they “updated” the keyboard. However, it also had the advantage of leaving me with a working, if sluggish, spare laptop. Since then I’ve used the spare laptop to test out multiple Linux distributions, and it has performed far better on limited memory with Linux than it did with XP.
On 4/8/14, XP reached the end of Microsoft support, and anyone using XP will have to figure out what to do with their XP computers. If the hardware has enough resources, there is the option of upgrading to a newer version of Windows – if it doesn’t, it could be set up as a VDI thin client, or you could take the security risk of running an unsupported system. Or, like my old laptop, you could install Linux on it.
There are significant advantages to implementing Linux desktops:
- No licensing costs
- Malware and virus free (not completely, but much more so than Windows)
- Open source software for pretty much everything you need
- Runs on computers with low resources
- Capable of displaying a Windows-like desktop (an advantage if I want anyone else in my family to use the computer)
That being said, I will admit that there are issues with Linux in a Windows business environment. One major issue is that Linux does not connect to all Windows applications seamlessly. There may be Linux substitute applications (OpenOffice/LibreOffice), and packages that can be configured to work with Microsoft software (Evolution email client connecting to Exchange), but there will always be some native Windows applications to which Linux will have problems connecting: Terminal Server Gateway RDP connections are problematic, and GoToMeeting lists Linux as a “may work” platform, but they won’t provide customer support if it doesn’t work. Linux does have its own versions of RDP and web meetings, but the idea is to fit Linux desktops into the existing Windows environment, not the other way around. Fitting Linux into a Windows world can take a significant amount of research along with trial and error.
Although, with some exceptions, application interoperability for Linux is better now than it was a few years ago. There are several factors that are making business applications more Linux friendly:
- Vendors are seeing demand to access software from Macs, tablets and mobile devices, so developers are testing that software works on more than just Windows alone.
- The Microsoft Open Specifications Promise allows open source software to use the same document standards as Office – so LibreOffice, or OpenOffice, or whichever version you choose, can read from and write to the same format as MS Office.
- Software as a Service (SaaS) can take software that was previously installed on Windows and make it available to anyone with a browser. It doesn’t matter if you have a Mac version or a Linux version – if you’ve got a Cloud SaaS version, you’re set as long as they’re running an acceptable browser.
A second major issue hindering Linux installations is technical support. Existing support staff will probably need Linux training – while Linux itself is not difficult, getting it to play nicely with Windows can be. The “free” aspect of Linux is appealing, but it may take paid support to get the initial configuration set up correctly. There are commercial Linux vendors (RedHat, SUSE, and Ubuntu) who provide server support, but desktop support is more limited. SUSE Linux claims to have “the most interoperable Linux desktop available today.” , listing key features of Office, Exchange, and Silverlight support, and does provide paid desktop support, which may be an attractive alternative to consultants when you’re just starting with Linux.
My opinion is admittedly biased – I would very much like to see more Linux desktops in use. There is only so much havoc that can be wrought on Linux by users as long as you don’t let them near the root password. It would have been nice to see the commercial Linux vendors capitalize on the publicity surrounding Windows XP’s death, and try to present Linux as a viable alternative. But, given the technical difficulties, perhaps the Linux vendors are busy enough supporting Linux servers without the added problems of getting them to work with Windows.