A Small Business Guide to Linux Desktop Software

By Drew Robb | Posted January 06, 2010

From its humble beginnings back in 1991, Linux has grown at a rapid rate. International Data Corp. (IDC) pegged Linux operating system revenue growth at 23.4 percent in 2008. IDC projects that by 2012, Linux operating system revenue will cross $1 billion for the first time, reaching as much as $1.2 billion. Not bad for a free operating system.

While you can still download many free versions of Linux online, for convenience sake, several vendors offer user-friendly versions and charge a fee for support. Red Hat and Novell are the primary desktop Linux vendors, accounting for nearly 95 percent of the operating system revenue in 2008, according to IDC. Further, these two companies claimed 90 percent of worldwide Linux subscribers during 2008.

“The Linux desktop has developed very rapidly over the past few years,” said Nick Carr, marketing director of Red Hat. “From a technology viewpoint the Linux desktop is well developed, feature rich and mature. It is low cost, secure and manageable, and it’s very well suited to a wide range of customer deployments.”

But Novell and Red Hat aren’t having it all their own way. Another Linux distribution for the desktop is on the rise — and it is completely free. Known as Ubuntu, it provides support via online communities, and it’s gaining ground. Further, Red Hat offers a free version called Fedora, which is also rising in popularity.


So if you’re new to Linux and looking for desktop software, should you go with Red Hat, Novell, Ubuntu or Fedora? We outline the key facts behind each option to help you make the right decision.

Red Hat

Red Hat, Inc. has long been one of the most popular Linux providers. If offers several different kinds of Linux desktop, though Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop is the primary flavor. The other versions are for heavy-duty desktop computing or for running Windows and Linux on the same PC.

“This makes it straightforward to run a Linux desktop and a Windows desktop on the same system,” said Carr.

A nice part of the Red Hat package is that it promises a seven-year lifecycle. This means the vendor won’t tell you that you have to upgrade to a different product for at least seven years. “This is very different from other Linux desktop systems, where long-term support is not typically provided,” said Carr. “If a security patch is required six years down the road for Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop, for example, we will provide it.”

Another Red Hat feature is the compatibility of its server and desktop products. The company offers Linux server operating systems that use the same interfaces and management tools as the desktop. Interoperability, therefore, is a piece of cake.

The downside of Red Hat might be cost. With pricing at $80 per desktop and up, it’s still cheaper than Windows 7, but it’s the priciest of the Linux choices. This Web page lists pricing and more details, plus it highlights the different levels of support and expected response times.

This software works well with most applications, though verify this first before installing it on every desktop in your business. The last thing you want to find is that it doesn’t work with that new accounting package you just spent a bundle on.



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