Picking a Desktop for Your Business or Home

Opinion: Want a good desktop operating system? Here are some thoughts on how to find the right one for you.

At last count, Ive got two-dozen computers in my home office, including six on my desk.

How do I do it? Well, let me just say that I should own stock in such KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch companies as Iogear and Belkin.

Why do I do it? While some people collect stamps, I collect operating systems. For some reason, I pick up operating systems the way sponges do water. At my desk, I currently have Mac OS X Tiger running on a maxed-out Mac Mini, and Xandros Business Desktop 3, Windows 2000, XP Pro, SuSE Linux 9.3 and SimplyMEPIS 3.3.1.

Each has its own strengths. OK, well maybe Windows 2000—which as of June 30 no longer has any support—doesnt, but the rest of them do.

I can run a bunch of operating systems because not only is it something I enjoy, its what I do for a living. But what about you, or your business? Running multiple desktop operating systems may be fun for me, but its a pain for most people, and its a nightmare for corporate support desks.

So, how do you decide which one is right for you?

There are many factors to consider. Many of those boil down to what applications you need. If your business depends on one or two applications, you darn well better be able to run them on your corporate desktop.

But these days, except for vertical and customized software, you can run almost all of the office basics on any operating system. For example, I use a late beta of OpenOffice 2.0 now on my Linux and Windows boxes, and a close Mac OS relative, NeoOffice/J, on my Mac.

Now, there are exceptions. I think Quicken and QuickBooks are the best personal and SMB (small and midsized business) finance programs around, and they run best on Windows.

Similarly, if Im going to do anything with DTP (desktop publishing), I want to do it with Adobe InDesign on a Mac. If I couldnt use InDesign and had to go with my second DTP choice, QuarkXPress, Id still want to run it on a Mac.

Next, you need to consider just how much the operating system is going to cost you.

Now, people go on forever about the TCO (total cost of ownership) about one operating system versus another. Microsoft has been particularly fond of misusing these figures lately.

The honest-to-goodness truth is that every business is different, and you need to sit down and figure out exactly what your costs are to get your work done.

Generally speaking, I think youre going to find that a Linux desktop is your best choice. They start out cheaper, they run free or low-price office applications that are every bit as good as Microsofts offerings, and theyre a heck of a lot more stable and secure than Windows.

I constantly have to worry with my Windows desktops. Do they have the latest patches? Do those same patches break any of my applications? Is my anti-virus program up to date? What about my anti-spyware software? It goes on and on forever. Who needs this grief!?

Yes, I have to update my Mac and Linux desktops as well, but if I dont get to it for a while, Im not likely to find my PCs transformed into spam zombies from heck.

So, which one is really right for you? Well, if youre reading this, you almost certainly already know Windows, so lets skip it. Instead, lets take a look at some of the top Linux desktop operating systems out there today.

First, theres my only tire-kicking of SuSE Linux 9.3. also You can read what the guys in the eWEEK Labs had to say about it, Red Hat Fedora 4 and Debian 3.1.

Last, but never least, you also should look at Apples Tiger. It really is, as far as Im concerned, the best Unix desktop out there. Yes, it is pricey, and it doesnt have as many native applications as either Windows or Linux, but it is a wonderful desktop.

Thats just me, though. You need to figure out exactly what you need and how much it will cost you, Then, after you take a good, hard looks at all of the alternatives to all Microsoft, all the time, you will be able to make an informed desktop choice for yourself and your business.

Good hunting.