Keep Your OS Options Open

Opinion: There's a handful of Windows alternatives arriving this summer that companies would do well to consider.

Now that the beta-palooza that was Microsofts WinHEC has passed, its time for the nine out of 10 desktop users who count themselves as Windows/Office users to spend a sleepy summer dreaming of translucent Vista sidebar gadgets and sliding Office 2007 UI ribbons until RTM (or, perhaps, the more conventionally wise SP1) arrives to trade up to the latest bits to roll out of Redmond.

However, before enterprises get too cozy with the idea of leaving their desktop infrastructure road map on auto-upgrade, theres a handful of Windows alternatives arriving this summer that companies would do well to consider.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read a review of OpenSUSE 10.1.

Novell is preparing to ship the latest version of its mainstream corporate desktop operating system, the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, and the company will be pushing hard to extend the reach of desktop Linux beyond the developer and hobbyist workstations where its thrived best so far.

Ubuntu Linux, which has risen to prominence in free software circles on the strong foundation of Debian, has recently reached its fourth, so-called Long Term Support release, which the Ubuntu team is positioning as a direct competitor to Vista.

Apple Computer is continuing to charge ahead, with the follow-on to last summers Tiger release of OS X set to ship with a multiboot utility and, thanks to its new Intel innards, the capacity for running any x86 operating system in a speedy virtual machine.

Weve made no secret of our stance that the Microsoft monopoly that delineates most of the worlds productivity application and operating system platform landscape is an unhealthy one, with negative ramifications for security, innovation and competition.

After years during which promising new desktop players—such as the ahead-of-its-time BeOS—found themselves snuffed out before they even got started, this show of diversity is encouraging.

Of course, even if you agree that product diversity is good for the IT market, its silly to expect companies to deploy alternatives simply for the sake of encouraging diversity. Desktop Linux vendors must demonstrate that they can meet the needs of business customers with scarcely more disruption than the upcoming round of Windows and Office upgrades will require.

Itll help to see the Linux-flag wavers at IBM and the born-again Penguin pals at Novell finish eating their own desktop Linux dog food to demonstrate that the world is ready for a multi-OS desktop reality.

Microsofts coming product storm includes compelling new software that stretches from mobile phones to desktops to servers, with more than a few Microsoft-only protocols in between.

Whether a move toward a Windows alternative is attractive or possible at your site right now, one thing thats clear is that were entering a time of broadened options, and enterprises owe it to themselves to keep their options as open as possible. This means not only keeping an eye on the alternatives but remaining mindful of how the choices you make today can give rise to more—or fewer—choices tomorrow.

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eWeeks Editorial Board consists of Jason Brooks, Larry Dignan, Stan Gibson and Scot Petersen.

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