Linux offers a great deal of flexibility in terms of hardware and price, but the relatively immature state of Linux on the desktopcombined with a sometimes-dizzying range of component choicesmay prove challenging for many companies. Organizations considering a move from Windows 98 to Linux have a number of vendors and Linux distributions from which to choose, but the options fall roughly into one of three groups.Community, project-based Linux distributions such as Fedora or Debian are freely available and may be copied onto as many systems as a company desires. In addition, these distributions have a much larger user base than enterprise-oriented options do, which means better application availability and Web-based support resources. Commercial Linux distributions such as Lindows. coms LindowsOS and Lycoris Desktop/Lx benefit from having a specific desktop focus, but these options are not well-established and have a smaller user base. One of the biggest advantages that XP offers to companies sizing up their upgrade options is familiarity, which will minimizebut not eliminatethe need for retraining. However, Mac OS and Linux abide by interface metaphors that are fairly similar to what users are accustomed to with Windows. Key applications such as Web browsers and word processors work about the same no matter what operating system youre running, so, for basic use, it shouldnt take more than a short familiarization period for users to get up to speed with one of these Windows-alternative platforms. Application compatibility is another major advantage of XP as a migration destination from Windows 98. XP will run most of the software used with Windows 98 and some applicationsOffice 2003, for examplethat wont run on Windows 98 at all. However, although moving from Windows 98 to Mac OS X or Linux on the desktop means running a new set of applications, good alternatives to Windows software exist for basic tasks such as e-mail, Web access, office productivity and instant messaging. That said, many of the best open-source applications are available for Windows as well as for Linux and Mac OS X. By opting for a combination of XP and free application software on the client, companies can realize much of the cost savings available with a Linux desktop while retaining compatibility with the software theyre accustomed to running. Companies considering a shift to Mac OS X or Linux can expect these operating systems to fit fairly well into their existing infrastructure, with Samba 3.0 providing compatibility with Windows file, print and authentication services. Administering Mac OS X or Linux machines requires a different skill set from that required for managing Windows boxes, but shifting to one of these alternative platforms can offer management benefits as well. For one thing, Mac OS X and Linux boxes dont suffer from the range of worms and viruses that target Windows. In addition, on Linux-based systems, software updates and maintenance can be much simpler than on Windows machines. With a software packaging system such as RPM (Red Hat Package Manager), which ships with the Linux distributions from Red Hat and SuSE Linux AG, administrators can install operating system and software updates through a single mechanism. Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_ firstname.lastname@example.org. (Editors note: This story was originally published in the Jan. 12 issue of eWEEK. The story was amended to reflect Microsofts extension of Windows 98 support from January 2004 to June 2006. The extension was announced Jan. 12.)
Enterprise Linux distributions, such as those from Red Hat Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc., come with annual, per-machine licensing costs that cut into Linuxs price advantage over Windows. However, these enterprise distributions also carry with them support assurances that less costly Linux options do not.