Over the past few years Linux has made inroads into the network server market. Now there seems to be a growing argument that Linux has a place on corporate desktops as well. Over the past several months TechRepublic members have debated this issue in a series of articles and discussions.

Linux proponents cite improvements in Windows emulation software, better Linux-native office suites, friendlier GUIs, and quicker desktop installs as reasons for a desktop migration. Add to this list the fact that using Linux will reduce your licensing fees and you might wonder why everyone isn’t jumping on the Linux bandwagon.

That is until you consider the arguments of those opposed who still feel Linux isn’t ready for the corporate desktop. These individuals maintain that the Linux interface is still too “geeky” for the average end user, that a large-enough economic incentive for a Linux migration doesn’t exist, and that Linux office suites still don’t compare to those for Windows.

So where do you stand? Has your organization seriously considered or already preformed a Linux desktop migration? Read on to find out exactly how your fellow TechRepublic members feel and then offer your own opinion.

Good reasons to give Linux desktops a try
Those TechRepublic members who think the time for desktop Linux has come offer more than rhetoric to back up their claims.

Run your Windows apps on a Linux desktop
One argument against Linux on the desktop is that organizations have so many Microsoft applications worth thousands of dollars and they don’t want to lose their investments. For such organizations, Linux proponents suggest a gentle migration through programs that emulate Windows capabilities. Some of the most notable of these are:

“Most organizations already have an Office license, and saving on OS costs makes sense,” said Sujai Nath in a recent discussion on the LindowsOS.

Better Linux-native productivity software
Some Linux proponents encourage the use of Linux-native productivity applications to replace those included in Microsoft’s Office suite of programs.

Vincent Moroz said he doesn’t need Microsoft Office to get through the day.

“I user Ximian Evolution for e-mail under Linux, and it is excellent,” Moroz wrote in a discussion. “I use either OpenOffice or StarOffice, which allows me to export to a .doc format.”

Other, more limited, office products include KOffice and AbiWord.

While it is argued that Linux doesn’t provide the collaborative work applications that populate the Windows world, Linux-lovers point to Evolution and even Lotus’ Domino for Linux.

“We’re not just talking an Outlook look-alike,” said WendyJ describing Domino, “it’s a solid groupware solution incorporating e-mail, desktop knowledge management, and enterprise information-sharing functions.” Domino, like Evolution, will even talk to an Exchange server.

New desktop interfaces are end-user friendly
Linux opponents are often quick to point out that Linux GUIs are more difficult to use than Windows and that moving to Linux will require training end users on the look and feel of a whole new operating system. But Linux lovers bristle about such transition training. The Linux GUI is just as easy for employees to use as a Windows interface, they say, and with Linux, users have a choice of two different GUIs.

“When was the last time you were offered a choice by Microsoft?” asked Ddollinger.

“No matter what OS or application infrastructure you are using, there will always be personnel costs for maintaining and updating the system,” wrote Gmelder. “Users will always have questions/problems and will want to have knowledgeable staff on hand to help them use their machines and maximize their productivity.”

And the help desk calls will begin to subside about a week after a transition, according to Tsgalliday, who recently installed Linux on 300 desktops over a three-month period.

“It took careful planning and lots of TLC to get everyone trained and ready to go,” Tsgalliday wrote, but users seem to be happy with their new OS.

Linux deployment quicker than Windows
Linux proponents also hail Linux as being faster to install than Windows.

“I can install Mandrake, for example, in less than an hour and it usually finds everything the first time,” Electrnx wrote, describing how Linux recognizes all the hardware in a computer. “With a new install of Microsoft, you never know. Maybe 45 minutes, and maybe all day to find the modem, sound card, or whatever.”

Not everyone thinks Linux is desktop ready
Not surprisingly, there are detractors for just about every point that Linux fans make in support of using the OS on company desktops.

Not yet ready for prime time
Some techs have had negative experiences with desktop Linux and are still uncomfortable with running it on their organization’s machines. Before they run Linux on their organization’s desktops, the alternative OS will need the same level of polish as Microsoft’s Windows.

“As for a desktop, it is crappy and nowhere near Microsoft,” said NTnetworkman, in response to an article asking if Linux is ready for the desktop. “Linux is slow, and the GUI crashes all the time.”

Diabetic doesn’t buy the notion it will ever be ready for the corporate desktop, even while admitting Linux has its uses. In fact, Diabetic thinks forcing Linux to the desktop too soon could cause some people to turn on the OS completely if it doesn’t meet their expectations the first time they try it.

“Linux evangelists are doing themselves and the Linux community a great disservice by creating the false impression that it is ready for the average user,” he wrote.

“It is quite clear that a good alternative to Microsoft will see a mass migration to any alternative OS that is simple to install and not a raging headache to learn,” wrote TokyoPete. “This is the major problem with Linux today.”

“In my opinion, [Linux] is still too geeky to be a general-use, desktop operating system,” said Berkmberk1. Open source operating systems are geared toward early adopters who appreciate the programming over simplicity. “It doesn’t really promote production of a truly marketable operating system geared to the consumer.”

“The biggest stumbling block to migration to Linux for the desktop can be seen right here [on TechRepublic],” Electrnx wrote. “The techs have to believe in Linux.”

Show me the money
Let’s be honest, Linux won’t make it to the desktop until techs and their bosses believe they can afford to put it there.

Bmilbank thinks proving there is a sufficient return on investment in a Linux desktop rollout is just about impossible at the moment.

“Most companies have huge investments on the desktop based on Windows application software licenses that they have purchased,” he said. There aren’t enough comparable applications for Linux now, and if there were, the migration costs of retraining company personnel would eat up any savings.

“Migration to a Linux OS as a desktop precludes the use of much commercial software in which companies already have a huge investiture.

“The bottom line is that Windows has 80 percent of the desktop market for a reason, and it will be some time before Linux can compete effectively in that area,” according to Bmilbank.

Even companies that might try to ease away from Microsoft into the Linux community by using operating systems like Lindows will not see cost savings soon, Bob Nance said.

“Don’t forget, to run these Microsoft applications on this new interface, you need to own [the Microsoft application licenses],” he wrote.

Why not stick with Microsoft for everything?

Linux just isn’t the same as Microsoft
Getting conservative businesses like banks and insurance companies to switch to a Linux desktop just isn’t going to happen, according to people like TechRepublic member Tobias.

These businesses want to see Microsoft products like Excel, Access, and Word on their client machines. “They want everybody to just work like we always have done—with MS Word.”

Desktop migrations to Linux aren’t going to happen without the confidence that these kinds of productivity programs can be replaced.

“My PC is a tool and not a hobby,” wrote Mcrowne. “So I need to know that all the components are there, and that I’ll be back up and running with equivalents to all of my applications within a sensible time before I’ll take the plunge.”

What do you think?
Are there good arguments for making the leap to Linux on the desktop now? Is it too soon to make that kind of commitment on any scale? Would Linux desktops work in smaller organizations, or larger companies that have larger support staffs? Join the debate by posting a comment below.