Networking

01:19 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%
Repost This

Linux Desktop In The Enterprise: Ubuntu Vs. Windows

With Windows 8.1 and Ubuntu 13.10 just out and Windows XP support going away, this is a good time for companies to consider switching to Linux on the desktop.

The "year of the Linux desktop" has been prophesied by Linux supporters almost every year for the last decade. This was once a lofty goal in the Microsoft-dominated enterprise, but times are changing. Linux has grown into a formidable competitor in the smartphone and cloud computing markets, which has caught Microsoft off guard. More importantly, Google, IBM, Red Hat, Facebook, and Netflix have made huge investments into Linux innovations.

Now, with shrinking technology budgets and rising Microsoft licensing fees, it's time for IT to seriously consider desktop Linux deployment as an alternative to Windows. The timing for this couldn't be better: Windows 8.1 was just released, as was the latest version of Ubuntu, 13.10. Windows XP has just five months of support left, so companies need to make the switch to something new. Ubuntu may just have what companies need to support their desktop OS needs. I'll look at various considerations for making the Linux desktop switch, including training and support, as well as potential complications.

I know that Ubuntu has lost some of the favor it once enjoyed in the open source community. Canonical, the creators of Ubuntu, have made some unpopular choices, including changing the display manager -- the base component of the graphical interface in Linux-- to the internally developed Mir instead of Wayland. However, Ubuntu remains completely open source and offers the most painless install of any Linux distribution or even Windows version, for that matter. Canonical also offers paid support, which may be needed in enterprise environments.

There has always been the argument that end users will need retraining if they switch over to a new desktop interface. Microsoft's controversial decision to overhaul the familiar interface for Windows 8.1 now requires just as much training as switching to Linux. Ubuntu's Unity desktop has evolved into a user friendly interface that is arguably more easily understood by end users than Windows 8.1.

For example, compare how a user shuts down the system in each operating system. In all recent versions of Ubuntu, it starts with one click in the right corner of the screen, where the symbol for on-off is located. A menu drops down and one more click shuts down the machine. Windows 8.1 requires a right-click on the Start button, where a menu drops down allowing for a shutdown. This was a vast improvement over Windows 8, which required a trip to the charms bar, but still not as obvious as an icon located directly on the screen.

End-user training for applications is a less complex task nowadays, thanks to the Windows versions of many popular open source applications. Users may already be familiar with Firefox, LibreOffice, Pidgin, and VLC Media Player on Windows. Commercial applications used in business, such as Skype and Adobe Acrobat, function just like their Windows equivalents. Cloud-based applications such as Google Drive or Microsoft Office 365 work well on Ubuntu.

Legacy Windows applications can be accessed through the familiar Citrix client or open source RDP clients. Companies also can use open source virtualization products such as VirtualBox to run the most stubborn legacy Windows applications.

[Read about the security improvements Windows 8 offers businesses, as well as its downsides in "Windows 8 Benefits And Challenges."]

On the support front, many technicians will remember the earlier days of Linux when hardware support was extremely limited. That simply is not the case anymore.

Linux hardware support is oftentimes better than the latest versions of Windows. Many hardware vendors have been dropping driver support for newer versions of Windows. The open source drivers in Linux can be kept up to date by anyone in the developer community, so a lot of older hardware is fully supported in the latest versions of Ubuntu. This fact, plus Ubuntu's lower system requirements, will allow companies to extend the life of hardware once destined for the recycling bin.

While there are upsides to a Linux desktop replacement program, there are some potential difficulties companies should consider. While many technicians have already been using Linux or will be motivated by the prospect of learning new skills, there also will be technicians who have spent a lot of time developing a comfort level managing Windows and may be reluctant to embrace the change.

Citing salary trends is one way to address this potential issue. The salaries of positions with Linux skills requirements are rising at nearly double the rate of other technical professionals, according to Dice.

Companies under stringent compliance requirements may have difficulties switching over to Linux. For example, HIPAA requires encryption that meets FIPS-140-2 requirements. Most open source encryption projects do not have sponsors to get them through the NIST certification to meet this requirement. Open source may actually be more secure than proprietary software because of the number of people that have reviewed the source code, but surprisingly that doesn't matter in the world of compliance.

Businesses need to understand their compliance requirements and develop a plan for training IT staff before deciding to move forward with a full conversion. But overall, Ubuntu Linux has matured into a viable alternative to proprietary operating systems in the enterprise. The effort companies put into a Linux desktop replacement program will be worth the savings in licensing fees. Next year may finally be the “year of the Linux desktop.”

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
EricY083
50%
50%
EricY083,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/18/2013 | 3:33:04 PM
re: Linux Desktop In The Enterprise: Ubuntu Vs. Windows
Both SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux are already FIPS 140-2 compliant http://www.redhat.com/about/ne... and https://www.suse.com/communiti...
Guest
50%
50%
Guest,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/18/2013 | 3:31:44 PM
re: Linux Desktop In The Enterprise: Ubuntu Vs. Windows
Guest
50%
50%
Guest,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/18/2013 | 3:29:31 PM
re: Linux Desktop In The Enterprise: Ubuntu Vs. Windows
Hi Joe, both SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5/6 are FIPS 140-2 compliant. For SLES https://www.suse.com/communiti...
jgranneman
50%
50%
jgranneman,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2013 | 12:27:18 AM
re: Linux Desktop In The Enterprise: Ubuntu Vs. Windows
Windows management hasn't evolved significantly in 10 years. It is based upon layers of complexity with Group Policies and SCCM built upon two decades of legacy code. There are so many easier ways to manage Linux systems. Canonical has their own solution but there are many different choices from cloud based to custom developed.
Injun
50%
50%
Injun,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2013 | 12:26:50 AM
re: Linux Desktop In The Enterprise: Ubuntu Vs. Windows
Hi Mark, I think you have spot on conclusions from trends we all have watched many years now.

Typical corporate FUD doesnG«÷t cut it any more, users and executives no longer see a significant difference between learning an interface for Open Source or a new interface and equipment upgrade every time the Seattle board decides they need larger boats.

I am in complete agreement with you and your observations, through the years it tickles me to see enterprise in America finally gets what we have espoused at least the last 10 years.

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of America" (P.T. Barnum)
jgranneman
50%
50%
jgranneman,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2013 | 12:22:23 AM
re: Linux Desktop In The Enterprise: Ubuntu Vs. Windows
Mark - I agree - I think the day has finally come where desktop Linux is making sense. I have seen it start to crop up in many different companies. Open source code just makes sense for a lot of reasons that have come to light recently.
jgranneman
50%
50%
jgranneman,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2013 | 12:19:03 AM
re: Linux Desktop In The Enterprise: Ubuntu Vs. Windows
Netflix has not put out a desktop client for Linux but that doesn't mean that they haven't invested in Linux. Check out their open source site - http://netflix.github.io/#repo - you will find many different tools for the Linux/Unix community. They do run their infrastructure on FreeBSD 9.0 but all of their tools would apply to Linux as well. These types of contributions are propelling Linux development faster than a single corporation like Microsoft could possibly keep up with.
MarkH150
50%
50%
MarkH150,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/6/2013 | 3:11:42 AM
re: Linux Desktop In The Enterprise: Ubuntu Vs. Windows
hi Joe... it traditionally takes twenty-five years for new technology to take hold in the corporate market place. Several ideologies and more than a couple of market trends are converging to see the irrelevance of Microsoft as a prevailing force... at least in the software arena.
1) Microsoft FUD has pretty much run its course... nuf said
2) Gnu/linux has proven itself from smart phones to IT servers to super-computers... not least of which are the fastest IBM systems out there.
3) Folks are sick-and-tired of the Microsoft tax... and even the corp guys are feeling this too these days... there is no reason any longer to scrap heap computer hardware because Microsoft says to... for crying out loud... enough is enough.
4) The NSA. The only way any of us are going to be relatively safe from government surveillance is to use free (libre) software. This issue is mounting fast and hard... thank God for Snowden. But also, thank God for the free software movement. Go FSF.
5) The last several versions of Microsoft OS have sucked. Everyone hates Windows (8). ... ok, let's just say Windows (8) was a blessing (a veritable gift) to the free software movement.
6) Everyone loves freedom, and everyone loves OPEN systems. The walled gardens of Apple and Microsoft are ending... the re-enlightenment is dawning ... gnu/linux is just better all around.
7) Its less about which year is the year of the desktop, and more about how many gnu/linux desktops are emerging out here... and its happening at a lightning pace right now. I'm an Old IBMer... a friend just called last week and told me that IBM is internally distributing gnu/linux desktops as primary these days... the support guys need to have linux on their desk because their "customers" now have linux on their desks, as well as their IBM systems! Its happening. Back in the day when I was advocating for gnu/linux in the IBM workplace (before it was cool...) me homies and I knew what was coming... and we have been vindicated.

Cheers
anon9506709059
50%
50%
anon9506709059,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/6/2013 | 2:46:21 AM
re: Linux Desktop In The Enterprise: Ubuntu Vs. Windows
Netflix HAS NOT made significant investments in Linux. In fact, they're one of the biggest main stream linux hold outs. Spotify and Steam have both had linux releases for some time now.

Fact check fail.
MarciaNWC
50%
50%
MarciaNWC,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/5/2013 | 11:19:51 PM
re: Linux Desktop In The Enterprise: Ubuntu Vs. Windows
Hi Joe -- How does Ubuntu compare with Windows on the management front?
More Blogs from Commentary
Infrastructure Challenge: Build Your Community
Network Computing provides the platform; help us make it your community.
Edge Devices Are The Brains Of The Network
In any type of network, the edge is where all the action takes place. Think of the edge as the brains of the network, while the core is just the dumb muscle.
SDN: Waiting For The Trickle-Down Effect
Like server virtualization and 10 Gigabit Ethernet, SDN will eventually become a technology that small and midsized enterprises can use. But it's going to require some new packaging.
IT Certification Exam Success In 4 Steps
There are no shortcuts to obtaining passing scores, but focusing on key fundamentals of proper study and preparation will help you master the art of certification.
VMware's VSAN Benchmarks: Under The Hood
VMware touted flashy numbers in recently published performance benchmarks, but a closer examination of its VSAN testing shows why customers shouldn't expect the same results with their real-world applications.
Hot Topics
2
IT Certification Exam Success In 4 Steps
Amy Arnold, CCNP/DP/Voice,  4/22/2014
1
Heartbleed Flaw Exploited In VPN Attack
Mathew J. Schwartz 4/21/2014
White Papers
Register for Network Computing Newsletters
Cartoon
Current Issue
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed