Munich city council’s decision to move from Windows to Linux may be under scrutiny, but it’s worth remembering it’s not the only major organisation to have chosen open source for its desktops.

Linux-based desktop operating systems face barriers to widespread adoption and skepticism about their future prospects due to their limited use today.

Yet major users do exist, including companies such as Google and a small but growing number of government bodies.

Here are five of the highest-profile users of the Linux desktop worldwide.

  1. Google

    Perhaps the best-known major company to use Linux on the desktop is Google, which provides the Goobuntu OS for staff to use.

    Goobuntu is a reskinned version of the Long Term Support variant of Ubuntu. If Googlers want to use Windows, they reportedly must specifically request it, because, in the words of Google software developer and Gregorian friar Thomas Bushnell: “Windows is harder because it has ‘special’ security problems, so it requires high-level permission before someone can use it.” and “Windows tools tend to be heavy and inflexible”.

    There are tens of thousands of Goobuntu users, ranging from graphic designers and sales people to engineers and managers. Users range from knowing very little about computers to Ken Thompson, who helped design the Unix operating system.

  2. NASA

    Orbiting some 250 miles above our heads are Linux users who are literally out of this world.

    Last year NASA announced it had switched laptops used for key functions on board the International Space Station from Windows XP to Debian 6.

    There are dozens laptops on board the station. The computers’ role is crucial as crews use laptops to access the station’s command-and-control computers, using a GUI that allows them to navigate through schematics of the station’s various systems – for example, heating or electrics.

    “We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable – one that would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust or adapt, we could,” Keith Chuvala of United Space Alliance, a NASA contractor said at the time of the changeover.

  3. French Gendarmerie

    Like Munich, the French gendarmerie – France’s military police force – has spent almost a decade switching to Linux and open-source software.

    The migration project, due to complete this year, will see the force migrate 72,000 PCs from Windows XP to GendBuntu, the organisation’s version of the Ubuntu LTS distro.

    Alongside the operating system shift, the organisation is also switching its office suite from Microsoft to OpenOffice, its default browser from IE to Firefox, and moving to Thunderbird for email, as well as the image editor GIMP and video player VLC.

    The rollout of GendBuntu happened in phases. At first, 5,000 PCs were transferred over as a test rollout – described as the “handcrafted phase” – and in the years that followed, the “industrialised phase” started, as another 30,000 or so made the change, ahead of a final accelerated migration.

    The organisation estimates that the TCO of the desktops will fall by 40 percent between 2008 and 2014 when the deployment is complete – attributing the savings to reductions in software licensing.

    The shift has not been plain sailing, as squadron leader StĂ©phane Dumond, of the French interior ministry’s technology and IS services department, told TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet.

    “It’s a daily fight against internal and external resistance. Internal because some of our project managers are likely to forget that we are migrating to Ubuntu and external because we have to force companies (like SAP, for example) to provide full Ubuntu-compliant software if they want to win our calls for tender,” Dumond said.

  4. US Department of Defense

    The US Department of Defense’s (DoD) software protection initiative has developed a Linux-based operating system to help government staff log into secure networks from untrusted PCs.

    The Lightweight Portable Security distro is designed to run directly from a CD or USB stick. The idea is that DoD employees can plug a USB stick into a computer in a hotel or at home and boot into a pristine desktop that won’t leave traces of activity on the computer’s hard disk.

    It supports DoD-approved Common Access Card readers, as required for authenticating users on DoD networks.

  5. CERN

    The European nuclear research lab CERN – whose experiments colliding particles at close to the speed of light discovered the Higgs Boson – is a long-time Linux user.

    Researchers at CERN rely on more than 3,000 desktops running a customised version of Scientific Linux, a version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu or CERN CentOS 7.

    The experiments at CERN generate a vast amount of data. When it was operating the Large Hadron Collider, the particle acclerator used in the experiments that detected the Higgs Boson generated some 30PB of data in a year. That huge volume was what was left after more than 90 percent of the data collected by the sensors inside the collider had been discarded.

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