A lot of small businesses are reluctant to try Linux because they think it means moving away from Microsoft Windows, and you can't blame them. Change is disruptive, and while a lot of software applications are cross-platform, most aren't, so leaving Windows often means leaving favorite software behind.
However, the choice is not either-or, because the Linux world offers a lot of excellent tools for interoperability. You can mix Linux, Mac and Windows computers on your small business network. Then you have the best of all worlds.
Once you enter the Linux world, you have a vast universe of high-quality professional software at your fingertips, most of it for free. Linux is stable, secure, and very efficient: it doesn't suck up your hardware resources just to run itself, and you don't need anti-malware software further bogging it down.
What does 2013 promise for the Linux customer? Just about everything. Let's look at a sampling of some excellent Linux software that could benefit your small business.
The Linux OS
It all starts with your computer operating system, and there are great choices for Linux editions with commercial support, and free versions with community support. You don't have to pick one or the other, or stick with a single vendor, but can freely mix it up however you like.
SUSE, Red Hat, and Canonical are the big three commercial Linux vendors. All three offer a full range of products and services for companies of every size: from very small customers to the largest enterprises. Desktop, mobile, servers, integration with Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X, cloud services -- you're covered.
Figure 1: Three Flavors of Linux
If you're more inclined to do-it-yourself, you can find free-of-cost versions of all three. Canonical's Ubuntu Linux is the easiest to get for free: simply download and install it, and start using it. The Ubuntu Unleashed series is the best Ubuntu how-to book series.
SUSE Enterprise Linux offers free 60-day trials. Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) has some free-trial versions, but it takes a lot of hoop-jumping to find and get them. An easier way to get RHEL for free is to get one of the free clones, like CentOS or Scientific Linux. These are RHEL clones minus the trademarks and logos, and no commercial support.
We've talked about various Linux versions for your small business before: The 5 Best Linux Servers for Small Business, and 3 Open-Source Point-of-Sale Systems for Small Business should help you sort things out.
Cloud. Yes, Cloud
Cloud technologies are relevant to small businesses because of the flexibility they bring to IT infrastructure, whether you run your own cloud server or use commercial cloud services. OwnCloud is an especially nice do-it-yourself implementation that bundles useful features such as shared files and calendars, Active Directory integration, integration with storage services like Dropbox, encryption, file viewers, and data synchronization.
All cloud technologies are open source-based, including the giant Amazon Web Services. SUSE, Red Hat and Canonical all support a range of cloud services, from running your own server to hosted services, and integration with external services like Amazon.
Small Business Storage
Data storage is a giant problem, because we're creating so much data. You definitely want stout open source storage technologies, because they are the best. All the major Linux vendors are lining up behind the OpenStack project, and for good reasons: it's completely open, and it's cram-full of advanced technologies like de-duplication, snapshots, backups and support for multiple storage protocols.