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Is Linux necessary on the desktop?

GIMP, Thunderbird and OpenOffice

A conversation I had this weekend with the head of a branding and creative agency here in the city got me thinking. How well is Linux positioned to convince users at the small business or consumer levels to switch?

That's right. I'm talking about the other "Switch" here -- not the Windows-to-Mac one. I mean the big one: from proprietary to open source, which very easily may be the harder of the two Switches.

His take: Why switch to Linux at all? After all, it will require giving up a number of apps he and his coworkers are already expert with. He balked at switching to alternatives like GIMP and OpenOffice -- neither of which he had heard of -- and doubted that open source apps could measure up to the proprietary applications he uses daily. He was concerned at the thought of how he might go about getting support for open source applications -- and how much he'd have to pay.

Of course, there's the dissenting opinion. Open source software advocates point to environments like Wine, which, despite a performance hit, enables you to still run many proprietary applications, including older versions of Photoshop -- thanks in part to the efforts of Google in prodding Wine along. And, yeah, there are GIMP and other free alternatives to handle graphics-editing needs that many cite as suitable replacements.

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