Linux vs. Microsoft. What’s the deal?

I am sure you have heard of Linux.  If you haven’t you are not paying attention.  Now, the question isn’t have you heard of it, it’s do you need it?  Maybe!  This is not an easy question to answer.  And quite honestly if you already have an existing sytem, I would not go changing it.  The point here is to discuss the pros and cons and possible reasons for each.

Let’s start with the biggest reason people switch…price!  Linux is free, Microsoft Windows 7 Home is $120, Professional is $160, Ultimate is $299.  That’s just for desktop upgrade license.  Small Business Server 2008 with 5 user licenses starts at $1089.00 whereas Linux is still free no matter how many users.  Hold on here, there has to be a catch.  Well, sort of!  Again this depends.  As long as you run on supported hardware everything runs o.k.  As soon as you go get that new laptop that just came out, well there might be some problems that will take a ton of time to sort out and may not even get working correctly.

Now on the server side of things Linux will do everything your Microsoft server will do.  It will even do it more efficiently but, it just isn’t going to be as easy to figure out for the average user.  Not that MS Small Business Server is easy either, but the main things are.  Like file sharing for example. In MS it’s all ready to go, very simple, right click, share, permissions, done.  Linux…install SAMBA, install SWAT, configure Linux user, configure SAMBA user, share file using web interface of SWAT.  It definitely takes a little more know how to get it working.  Someone is going to say, but Michael, what if you are using Linux desktop with Linux server, isn’t it easier to setup file sharing?  Not really!  NFS is the default Linux network file sharing protocol but it is anything but easy.  Well, redefine easy.  You need to understand how to create the config file called “exports”.  Once you configure this file you need to create a directory to mount it to on your Linux desktop.  Then mount the file system. If you want this to happen automatically then you need to add a line to the fstab file.  Again not difficult, but you need to know what you are doing.  You can’t just look at a bunch of choices and decide the correct one.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  Depending on the Linux distribution you use there are plenty of point and click GUI’s out there.

As far as a desktop operating system, Linux is getting there.  I did say “getting”.  I don’t believe it is here yet.  I think for a corporate office where applications are few, systems are pretty locked down, and there is an IT staff, it works great. For the home user that is not very tech savvy, stay away.  That is if you like to get a little advanced on some of your programs.  Applications are still limited.  There are tons of great applications that people started creating but then stopped due to time or money or boredom or whatever reason.  Quicken.  There are several great applications to replace Quicken, but none of them will be compatible with your online banking.  There are applications to do everything you need, but you have to look hard for them.

In the small business world it is even harder if you have a niche business that people have already created specialty applications in Windows to run your business.  They just don’t exist for Linux. Most of these applications use MS SQL on the server and a fat client for the desktop.  Those are Microsoft only appplications.  As soon as developers start writing web based applications (which they should have started doing years ago), then stuff will run on Linux better.  But until then you have to evaluate whether your business will run efficiently on Linux desktops.

The common way to go right now is Linux server and Windows desktop.  Best of both worlds.  You can still run the applications you are used to on your desktop, while saving a ton of cash on your file server.  If you don’t have business specific applications or you really just surf the internet and create documents then full out Linux will work out fine for you.

Games are a different story.  Windows is really the only way to go here.  As far as that is concerned, a game console is the way to go anyway.  There are games for Linux.  Some pretty good ones.  Some Windows games may even work under WINE (a windows emulation type application), but that’s a huge maybe.

It seems a bit confusing, but we are really at that “it depends” time right now.  I exclusively have gone Linux several years ago.  As a technician I have way more troubleshooting software available for free.  However at home we do have a Windows machine for the kids’ games.