It used to be quite the challenge to make a Linux desktop business-ready. Most every business depended upon niche, proprietary software that simply could not be run on anything but Windows. However, times have changed and so much of business is now handled through a web browser. Add to that how much the Linux platform has matured and you have the makings for a big win on the open source front.
If you're still one of those who think it not possible to conduct your everyday business from Linux, I'm here to tell you those days are over. With the help of five applications, you can enjoy the power, stability, reliability, flexibility, and security of Linux. You'll be surprised how common these tools are. Let's take a look.
So much of business is handled through a web browser. Why not use one of the fastest browsers on the market? Google Chrome not only has speed behind it, it also offers a host of add-ons to further extend Chrome's usefulness. The only caveat is the lack of ActiveX available for Linux. The lack of ActiveX is not on Chrome's shoulders - the tool simply doesn't exist for Linux. There is one solution for this - IEs4Linux. By using Wine, you can get IEs4Linux working and, with a bit of work, can even get ActiveX involved in the mix. Outside of ActiveX, Chrome will stand tall as a business-ready browser to make Linux fully capable.
Most would say there is no replacement for Outlook. Prior to discovering both Exquilla and Lightning Exchange Provider, I would have agreed. With the addition of those two plugins (along with the Lightning plugin) it is now possible for you to connect with your Exchange server. For more information on how to set up Exquilla, check out my article "Connect the Thunderbird Email Client to your Exchange Server". Once you have the extensions in place (and Thunderbird connected to your Exchange server), you'll never miss Outlook again.
If you have a need to create professional looking PDF documents (and most businesses do), Scribus is a must have. Sure you can create a document in LibreOffice and easily export it to PDF, but with Scribus you're dealing with a professional-grade layout tool. Layers, transparencies, frames, CMYK support, ICC profile support, PDF, EPS, SVG import, and much more can help you create professional brochures, pamphlets, interactive PDFS (with fields and forms), training manuals, and even books.
No business desktop is complete without an office suite. As far as Linux is concerned, there are two major options: LibreOffice and Kingsoft Office. Though I prefer the Kingsoft Office word processor, it lacks one of the major tools necessary for businesses - a database. With LibreOffice, you get everything you need: Word processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation, Drawing, Formula, and Database. And with LibreOffice's add-on system, you can expand the office suite well beyond the default capabilities.
Finally, there might well be times when you have a piece of proprietary, niche software that simply must be run on Windows. When that happens, you can load up a virtual machine inside of VirtualBox and run nearly any OS you choose. Mac users have been doing this with Parallels for a while now, so what's stopping Linux users from enjoying a multiple-platform environment? Nothing. And with VirtualBox virtual machines, you ensured you never have to worry about not being able to run the tools you need. There is a downside; you need to have enough resources (RAM especially) and a valid license for the Microsoft operating system.
The way business is done has changed. Modern desktops are no longer as much about platform as they are about connectivity. With a browser and a few handy tools, you can have Linux running your business desktops faithfully and reliably. Of course, not every business is created equal. There are needs that cannot be met with certain platforms (or a single platform). In those cases, you'll be glad you have a tool like VirtualBox to level the playing field.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.