Windows-to-Linux on the desktop has its drawbacks

Sure there are cost and maintenance savings in opting for Linux on the desktop over Windows, but administrators still have to contend with some setbacks.

SAN DIEGO -- Organizing a conference around moving from Windows to Linux on the desktop may be easier than actually

making the switch, at least that was the sentiment expressed by many panelists and attendees at the Desktop Linux Summit 2003.

The panelists and exhibitors gathered to promote the move to Lindows, a PC operating system similar to Windows but without the licensing fees and headaches that can be associated with the dominant Windows operating system.

Cost savings was the primary reason that Mindbridge, a Norristown, Penn. software company made the jump to Linux on the desktop. Scott Testa chief operating officer with MindBridge, who presented at the conference, explained that he purchased Microtel computers for his company at the bargain price of $225 a piece. He was then in position where he had to spend $400 to $500 in licensing fees for each machine to install Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office.

"That just doesn't make any sense," he said.

His company is full of tech-savvy users, many of whom were already fans of Linux, so, he said that there was not an inordinate amount of trading required. And overall, the switch has been relatively easy.

There are a few drawbacks, mostly in terms of incompatibility between applications written for Linux in the Open Office and Star Office application suites which mimic Microsoft's Office. While most files can be read back and forth, there are some formatting problems with complex documents and some of the macros do not translate correctly, Testa said.

Plenty of companies are eager to follow MindBridge onto the Linux desktop, said attendee Bob Compton, HostMaster with Web-Site-Host.biz, a San Diego consultancy. Companies are sick of having their computers crash, sick of the ever-increasing amount of time it takes to boot up Windows, the constant updates and patches that need to be installed; the list goes on he said. Many of the companies he works with are looking for a way to circumvent Microsoft.

But companies are not willing to sacrifice productivity to do so. Compton said that companies fear downtime during the transition. Today, companies cannot tolerate a loss of productivity during transitions while applications are replaced and workers retrained. As a result, he said that he helps many companies install Linux on servers, but none have been willing to make the leap to the desktop.

Companies are often afraid of the sometimes unpredictable world of freeware applications that accompany the Linux operating system. For example, though Open Office is relatively established, its word-processing program does not come with a spell checker, a mandatory element for any business user.

And while there are long lists of applications that have been written for Linux, a number of applications simply will not run on Linux and there is no clone application available. Many companies also have home grown applications that will not run on a Linux system said Jim Curtin, chief operating officer with NeTraverse an Austin Texas-based software company.

His company has developed a client-server product called Win4Lin which allows Windows applications to run on the Linux operating system. Yet even with this product, he said that many companies hesitate to make the leap to Linux on the desktop. They are more comfortable with running it on servers and waiting to move it out to the desktop.

But some companies have made the switch, often because of the improved speed and reliability of Linux. Many film production houses now run Linux because it is many times faster than Windows which is important for artists doing detailed special effects and animation.

One attendee, Jorge Adrain Salaices, an applications manager with Dallas Airmotive, a Grapevine, Texas company that refurbishes aircraft engines has been on a long campaign to push him company to Linux. Citing concerns about licensing costs and Windows instability, he has had some success.

Since he showed the CIO the potential cost savings from Linux, the company has been on track to roll over to Linux both on the back end and on the desktop. The company plans to move its 200 shop floor computers to Linux in the near future, an important step, he said because those are the systems that mechanics rely on to help them repair airplane engines where there is no room for error. It's a switch that Salaices is looking forward to.


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