Plenty of progress has also been made on the desktop side of the ledger. Both Novell and Ubuntu serve as good examples. Once again, Ubuntu is available for free download ($250 for support per year). SUSE Linux for the desktop costs $50 per desktop (support not included). There are deals available for bulk purchases.
[PC makers] are certifying many Linux distributions, from Novell to Red Hat and Ubuntu, on a growing list of servers, notebooks and desktops, said Grant Ho, senior product manager for Linux and open platform solutions at Novell. At the end of the day, this is ultimately allowing organizations to access Linux much more easily and to enjoy its benefits out of the box.
Whoever thought wed live to see the day when Microsoft would actually embrace open source. Yet Microsoft has an active partnership with Novell SUSE Linux to create compatible products such as Office document formats and management platforms that are compatible both Linux and Windows.
Beyond that, Linux applications are multiplying rapidly and are available now in most areas of the business world. You can replace Microsoft Office with OpenOffice.org, use Firefox for Web browsing, Evolution for e-mail, Pidgin for instant messaging and Banshee for music management, just to name a few.
The software that businesses need to run is available for Linux now, and many of them are free, said Carr. We will also see applications like IBM Lotus Notes and Domino Server available for Ubuntu by the year's end that is a direct Outlook replacement, which is the one piece of software that keeps many businesses in the Microsoft world.
Not everything is covered, though. There may be some proprietary products you need to have which just dont have a Linux equivalent. The finance department, for example, might have an application it would be difficult to replace. But even here, the solution for those wanting to move to Linux would be to retain a few licenses for the folks in finance, and change the rest of the gear to Linux.
For Windows application that have no Linux alternatives, you can make use of Wine, an open-source Linux platform that allows you to run Windows applications such as Microsoft Office, multi-media applications, including QuickTime and Windows Media Player, and even games such as Max Payne and The SIMS on top of Linux. Desktop virtualization can also be used in some cases to run Windows applications on Linux.
The oft-cited motivation for switching to Linux is economics. According to Carr, OpenOffice is more than good enough that people should question having to pay licenses for Microsoft Office the same for Windows Vista.
"While cost is part of it, your staff should in no way feel they are getting inferior systems to use, said Carr. They are often faster, easier to use, more reliable, without spyware, malware and viruses, more Internet-friendly and better presented.
Whitelaw Twinning, for instance, evaluated a move to Vista, as well as to various Linux distributions. It selected SUSE Linux for desktop. "We evaluated solutions based on the ability to create a safe environment, as well as what it would cost us in time and money to maintain them, said Giroux.
He estimated the change reduced hardware costs by 30 percent and desktop maintenance time by 20 percent.
What SMBs shouldnt do, though, is take the big bang route to Linux. Start out with a desktop or two, or a couple of servers and get a feel for the system. Armed with initial successes, it provides the motivation to roll it out further into the business.
And according to analysts, more and more small businesses are heading in the direction of Linux.
The reputation that Linux is too technical for both administrators and end-users is rapidly fading, said Ho. From our experience, we see SMBs moving to both server and desktop Linux in a wide variety of industries retail, financial services, public sector, non-profit all around the world.
Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.
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