?"> Why Switch? Linux does offer certain attractions as an alternative to Windows. The ability to customize Linux on desktops, the ease of management and the lack of licensing fees are all reasons some IT managers are considering making the switch from Windows to Linux on the desktop. Linuxs customizability is making it increasingly popular for some dedicated desktop applications such as point of sale and data entry where workers dont require compute-intensive office applications, according to some experts.In other cases, the motive is more philosophic. Some public-sector organizations, for example, are under orders to move as quickly as possible away from proprietary software and toward open source. In those cases, experts said, IT managers should evaluate where Linux makes the most sense within the organization. Certainly, one cause for the increased interest in Linux desktops is Microsofts Software Assurance licensing program, which went into effect July 31 and could increase Windows licensing costs for some organizations. The program has some CIOs and IT buyers scrambling to figure out whether deploying Windows-free desktops would enable them to reduce IT spending. Under Microsofts new rules, companies that plan to regularly upgrade Microsoft software will pay an annual discounted licensing fee toward future bulk upgrades. Those that choose to forgo the licensing agreements, however, will pay the full price of a new license every time they upgrade a Microsoft software product, a requirement that could increase software costs. At IT consulting company LinOra Corp., in Boise, Idaho, CEO Kelly Hogan said he moved 12 desktops and 25 servers to Linux after he reviewed Microsofts Software Assurance plan. Hogan deployed the Ximian Inc. desktop and Sun Microsystems Inc.s StarOffice 6.0 on his desktops and estimates he saved as much as $700 per desktop by not signing on with Software Assurance. "It had come down to either ponying up for Microsoft licenses or switching to Linux, and we chose to defer the Microsoft upgrade," Hogan said. "We were faced with a huge bill from Microsoft, and moving to Linux saved us a bundle." Microsoft competitors are seizing on this dissatisfaction with Software Assurance, seeing an opportunity to release Linux desktop programs and solutions to a receptive market. Red Hat, for example, last month released Version 8.0 of its Linux distribution, featuring support for both GNOME, or GNU Network Object Model Environment, and KDE (K Desktop Environment) desktops. Also last month, Sun announced its Project Mad Hatter initiative, under which it will sell Linux-based desktop systems along with Sun servers running the companys Solaris operating system on the back end. Linux desktops are likely to gain the most ground soonest at organizations where the open-source operating system already has a foothold in server rooms. At Jefferson County, OBrien has Linux running on 50 servers and has been using Linux since 1997. When OpenOffice Version 1.0 was released in May, OBrien began a pilot rollout of Linux desktops. Last month, he began to offer Linux desktops to any county department that requested one. OBrien is currently offering an Intel Corp. Pentium 4 with 512MB of RAM pre-installed with Red Hat Linux, the KDE desktop, Mozilla 1.1, a Web browser and a Jabber Inc. instant messaging client. Novells GroupWise is used on Linux and Windows boxes for e-mail. The Linux-equipped PC costs county departments $640. In contrast, a Windows PC with the same hardware specifications costs $770 pre-loaded with Windows 2000 and will run an additional $300 if a Microsoft Office 2000 license is needed. OBrien said there are minor differences between Microsoft Office and StarOffice programs, but so far, none of the 30 users of Linux desktop systems have complained.
So what factors should IT managers weigh as they mull whether to switch from Windows to Linux on the desktop? Experts say they should first determine their motives for a switch. In some cases, the motive is purely economic, driven by the need to cut desktop computing costs. In those cases, IT managers should do a thorough cost analysis, remembering to consider support, training and software porting costs.