The Linux option
The more technically inclined may be attracted to Linux, the most popular form of desktop Unix. Linux desktops typically are challenged by limited hardware compatibility (due to lack of drivers), limited application options, and user interfaces that require active participation to get work done, which tends to keep Linux away from the general user population. But those who work with a Linux server all day may find that using it on the desktop as well actually makes their lives easier.
Just as Mac users need occasional access to Windows, so do Linux users. Because Linux distributions run on Windows-compatible hardware, it's straightforward to use desktop virtualization software, such as Parallels Workstation, Sun's (formerly Innotek's) VirtualBox, and EMC VMware's Workstation software, to provide access to both environments.
Although some enterprises have committed to wide Linux deployment -- such as automaker Peugeot Citroen's plans to install 20,000 Novell Suse Linux desktops -- most have left Linux to the engineering and development staff.
InfoWorld Enterprise Desktop blogger Randall Kennedy argues that desktop Linux is doomed to remain a tiny niche OS, given the Linux community's lack of interest in providing a UI that regular people could use. Kennedy tried to spend a week working on nothing but the Ubuntu distribution of Linux but gave up on the fifth day.
But Kennedy's take isn't the last word on desktop Linux. Frequent InfoWorld contributor Neil McAllister put together a special report on how to move from Windows to Linux, concluding that the effort was not as hard as you might think.
Who's right? As with any platform choice, they both may be. A one-size-fits-all approach may be unrealistic. And that likely explains why many businesses will have a mix, dominated by Windows XP today (and perhaps Vista in a few years) but not exclusively tied to Microsoft's OS.