There has been a lot of noise both from the desktop Linux camp and from Microsoft trying to rebut everything the Linux brigade says. So should you be considering Linux as an alternative to Microsoft on the desktop?
First, Linux is more secure than Microsoft Windows.
It does appear to have fewer security vulnerabilities than Windows. From Quocirca's research in this area, those who have a preference for Windows accept that the cost of maintaining security in a Windows environment is high.
So - one point to Linux.
Second, Linux is cheap - but this can be only a half point to Linux.
Anyone can download Linux for the desktop free of charge from any of the distributors. But the trouble is, the majority of machines that people buy come with Windows installed, so you will end up paying Redmond a tax for running your copy of Linux, if you want to look at it that way.
This then leads to another problem: support. It is fine for techies to support Linux themselves, or to go to the myriad forums that are around and discuss issues among themselves, but is this appropriate for a company?
Companies want proper support and a throat to choke when things start to go pear-shaped. This can be done with Microsoft, and companies that have looked at Linux for the desktop still find themselves having to broker a full maintenance and support contract with the distributor or hardware supplier. So the score is Linux 1.5, Windows nil.
Third, applications. There is such a developer community out there that it is reasonably certain that you can get a free or low-price Linux equivalent to any bit of software that you could possibly be running in the Windows environment.
But do you want an equivalent? The companies Quocirca spoke to say this can be the killer: the applications are not going to be ripped out and replaced, and so the operating system needs to run the existing copies of Quickbooks, Sage, Maximizer and so on. Do you fancy having your company dependent on Superwhizzye-books from Joey in Paris, Texas? Linux 1.5, Windows 1.
And what of the user experience? It makes no difference if any of the Linux distributions are theoretically easier to use than any version of Windows.
The problem is that users are used to Windows, not because they have been inculcated through work, but because they have been using Windows through school, at home, at work and everywhere else.
Any alternative user experience is therefore different, and has a cost for the user to become familiar with it; something they will continue to struggle with unless you can persuade them to use Linux elsewhere as well. Linux 1.5, Windows 2
There is also the problem that was mentioned even by Linux adherents: there is not a great deal of commonality of the user experience across different Linux shells. The same applies to applications, so even something as necessary as "cut-and-paste" is carried out in different ways by various applications.
Linux 1.5, Windows 3.
Linux has an established place in the technology environment – a definite option at the server side, and it could be used for single-task workers where any issues with differences in user interface could be well hidden, and we’re purely looking at “black box” deployments of a completely swappable unit. The trouble is, if we try to push it higher up the stack than this, we run up against the biggest issue. If we take a 100% Linux or a 100% Windows environment where multi-functionality is required, it will take a certain amount of cost to manage these environments. Pay no attention as to whether Linux is cheaper than Windows or the other way around. The problem comes round when you have a mixed environment – you now need both sets of skills, and the overall cost to maintain the environment jumps up.
So, no matter how you view Microsoft as a company, or Linux as a loose grouping of freedom fighters, look at it from your business’ point of view. Linux at the desktop can enable you to bring in more of your workers who are single task oriented. Beyond this, ask yourself whether a Linux desktop strategy from a trusted partner along with a set of suitable, supported tools is the best for your business, or whether the same from Microsoft and its host of partner fits in best.
Only you know best – but I’d advise looking around at what your peers are up to…