10 Linux Advantages for Your Business

Thursday Jun 12th 2008 by Matt Hartley

The desire to find something more cost effective than Windows has grown from a growl to a roar. Once you understand the strengths of using the Linux desktop, you might find it makes sense for you, too.

Many people would love to find a more cost effective operating system than Windows. Obviously not everyone is a great candidate to make the switch to the open source operating system. However, once you  better understand the strengths of using the Linux desktop, you too might find that migrating makes a lot sense.

In this article, I will show you some things you can do for your business with Linux that you can't do with Windows.

1. Install Once and Forget It
Assuming you choose a stable release of your selected Linux distribution, you can, in all reality, install it and forget it. While I am not suggesting that you forget critical security updates by any means, the fact that Linux is just not on the radar for those with a malicious intent means that you can lock down a system for much longer with a lot more safety. You can go without running security updates as long as the PC in question is not connected to the Internet. For those PCs installed on the Internet, you will find that you will want to make sure that you keep those patches coming. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Windows users on the other hand, need to run those updates regardless of their Internet connection status simply because malware can indeed be installed through means other than an Internet connection.

2. Save a Fortune in Software Costs
While there is no question that most of the open source software used on Linux is also readily available for Windows as well, it is nice not needing to install it as it comes by default. Immediate access to free office suites, graphics editors, and other software means those are funds that can be put elsewhere for your business. Marketing for your business, for example.

It has long since been my opinion that most companies are spending entirely too much for software these days. Not to say that developers should not be compensated mind you, rather pointing out that there is an inherent flaw in paying so much for absurd renewals that the cost alone quickly becomes too much to bear for the growing business.

3. Install and Manage Software with One Action
To some, this is both a curse and a blessing. While it makes software updates a breeze, there is also the headache of trying to ensure that you are still able to update software that might not yet be compatible with the existing Linux libraries on your system, while still enjoying that ability to install, remove, and update software with only a couple of actions.

On Windows, the end user is either needing to use a third-party application to ensure they are alerted to the latest software updates, or simply rely on their ability to remember that checking periodically is generally the best practice. Overall, I find this to be obnoxious and a total waste of time. For my home business, this soon became counter-productive once I understood that today's modern Linux distributions all but eliminated this hassle. I elected to eliminate the Windows issue early on.

4. Browsers Without Limits
For many businesses, having access to browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer is a must. This is especially true for Web designers. Thankfully, on the Linux platform, there are a few great options that exist that allow the end user to run any browser they might happen to need. Here is a list of which and how.

  • Firefox: With desktop Linux, I am able to run two different versions natively (which is helpful as FF3 is still in beta) and even toss in the Windows version of the Mozilla browser with the help of WINE.
  • Opera: Again, I can run a single Linux native version with ease while at the same time, use WINE to run a Windows version if I so desired.
  • Internet Explorer: Because this is a browser that was clearly designed for Windows, there are a few challenges here, but over all, it gets the job done. For accessing IE-only Web sites (ActiveX) I am able to use WINE to run my IE6 browser fairly easily. Should the need for IE7 come up, however, I would want to use the IE4Linux beta that provides the IE7 back-end.

On Windows, the user is stuck with native browsing only, which is fine I suppose, but good luck running IE 5 to 7, along with non-Windows browsers for KDE or GNOME. Certainly not saying it is impossible, but it is a real pain in the backside from the user's standpoint.

5. Multiple Desktops.
In addition to running with two monitors should I want to, the desktop Linux user has the option of multiple desktop screens in a virtual sense. With KDE and GNOME you have the option of using a simple desktop switching applet that can be loaded next to the clock if the user so desires.

Taking this even further is to use Compiz Fusion on compatible hardware. For instance in my case I am running Compiz Fusion on my built-for Linux notebook. Using the cube functionality, I am able to switch back and forth between desktop spaces with a simple key combination of my choosing. It's very helpful when you are trying to balance the books or multi-task on a project with a single monitor.

On the Windows desktop, you may be able to switch windows on Vista, but that is about it. A simple, 3-D window switcher - wow, now that is a real breakthrough.

6. Backup Settings and Preferences Easily
There are a variety of methods your business can use to backup your Linux desktops. These methods range from something as easy as using a simple GUI to backup the /home/ folder, where the bulk of your user-specific settings are kept, all the way down to bare-metal backups to be moved over a network connection for long-term archiving.

What's fantastic is the freedom of selection you have. Rather than being bound to using what is provided by default or needing to pay through the nose for an expensive alternative, desktop Linux has ready access to plenty of back-up choices depending what level of backup you are seeking.

Windows by contrast, is as described as above: take what you get by default or locate something elsewhere that either costs a small fortune or potentially is created by an unsavory development firm.

7. Backup Software to Another Machine Easily
Another clear winning feature, especially when migrating or duplicating desktops, is the ability to easily take pre-installed software with you easily to another similar Linux desktop elsewhere. For Debian based distributions, the user has a simple ability to simply take the apt-get cache, bundle that with a script to install the software from the CD (which is fairly easy to do) and you can install every single piece of software you had on the other PC with a few mouse clicks.

Back on the Windows desktop, short of mirroring the drive, you are going to be installing everything from scratch. This especially true considering most desktop Linux distros come with most of the applications you want already installed after toss up the OS install. Windows, on the other hand, gives you a browser, a weak security suite, and some games.

8. Lock Down Actual Users
The gift of sudo is a fantastic gift for Linux installations set to use it by default. Whether it means being able to run a software application that really needs administrator privileges to work right or being able to make system updates while still running safely as a limited user.

From the business owner's perspective, desktop Linux also allows the administrator to lock down users for specific tasks, but still provide the ability to run as a "super user" when required by authenticated applications.

On the Windows front, super user ability is certainly available, while not made as clearly available to those who are unaware of how to best enjoy those privileges. Even to this day, Windows is setting users up a administrators with a weak layer of protection called the UAC. Because in the end, UAC and other security enhancements considered, you are still running as an unsecure administrator. And that is dangerous on any operating system. You could run as a limited user I suppose, but this is often times not viable for most businesses.

9. Upgrade Hardware By Choice, Not Necessity
Something else that struck me as awesome early on was the fact that Linux provides existing hardware with a lot more life than other operating systems. And thankfully, there are distributions for really old hardware and there are robust distributions that will run on slightly newer to brand new hardware. With so many distributions out there to choose from, your business can find the best version of Linux to meet the needs of your existing infrastructure. Hardware failure, however, is another issue entirely.

Windows on the other hand, provides two very limiting options - use the older Windows release with the older hardware or upgrade like mad as to better meet recommended Windows requirements with each release.

10. Never Install Drivers
Unless you opt to use unsupported hardware, there is no need to compile driver modules whatsoever. This means that you are not waiting on your system update feature to download 10 to 15 different drivers just to get things working.

To be fair, this is not as much an issue with other OSes as it used to be, but there are still plenty of peripherals out there that not only encourage you to use their driver CDs loaded with ample "crapware" to get things running, in some cases they require it to run as advertised.

Adapted from Intranetjournal.com.

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