Desktop Linux: Ready for the mainstream

Governments and major businesses can adopt Linux for many users, rather than pay the high costs of Vista or Windows 7

It's been a decade since Linux proponents first argued their OS was ready for mainstream adoption. Yet for all intents and purposes, Linux remains nonexistent on "regular" people's desks. Sure, developers and other tech experts use Linux, but that's about it.

So when my colleague Neil McAllister, made the case for desktop Linux, I snorted, "Give me a break! Desktop Linux is nowhere." He challenged me to try it myself. He had a point: It had been a decade since I fired up any desktop Linux distro. So I accepted his challenge.


See a comparison of Microsoft Office alternatives for Linux.

My verdict: Desktop Linux is a great choice for many regular Joes with basic computer needs. And not just on netbooks.

In fact, I found that it makes a lot of sense to standardize office workers on desktop Linux. I now understand why governments in Asia and Europe say they want to get off the Microsoft train and shift to Linux. I thought these were empty threats meant to get better licensing deals or to blunt some of Microsoft's monopolistic power, but as it turns out, desktop Linux is a worthwhile option for both public organizations and private companies. Those who standardize on Linux would save serious money on the new equipment needed for Vista or Windows 7, not to mention OS and Office upgrades as well. Your business could, too.

Moreover, Linux-based shops would require significantly less training than they would to teach staff Vista or Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2007.

Let's face reality: Most people use just Microsoft Office, e-mail, and the Web at work. For that, you don't need an expensive, resource-hogging suite like Office or a piggy operating system like Windows Vista or Windows 7. You don't even need my favorite OS, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Plus, adopting Linux will solve some of IT's headaches when it comes to PC management.

Let me explain.

An easier transition from XP than going to VistaI set up a virtual machine on my Mac and loaded Ubuntu 8.1. (Why Ubuntu? Reviewers single it out as the best desktop Linux. Many folks like Novell's Suse as well. And there are other Linux choices.) It booted like a real OS, with the familiar GUI of Windows XP and its predecessors and of the Mac OS: icons for disks and folders, a standard menu structure, and built-in support for common hardware such as networks, printers, and DVD burners.

Yes, I know that a Parallels Desktop or EMC VMware Fusion virtual machine is not a real PC, with all the variables per PC model that can make Linux not work on some models. But that's beside the point. Dell and others offer Linux-equipped PCs if you want that assurance. If you have a standard desktop configuration in your business, you'll find out quickly if it's Linux-compatible. And yes, you may discover that Linux doesn't work on your laptops, as blogger Randall C. Kennedy learned when he tried Ubuntu 8.04 a year ago.

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Galen Gruman

InfoWorld
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