RealTime IT News

Will Vista Be a Boon for Linux?

Sean Michael KernerReporter's Notebook: As enterprises of all stripes and sizes ponder whether or when to upgrade to Windows Vista, they could be confronted with at least three choices.

1) Stay with what they have
2) Migrate to Vista
3) Migrate to Linux

Some of the thinking goes like this:

Vista is a remarkable step forward for many Windows users. It offers a much more sophisticated set of security technologies and default configurations than Windows XP does, even with the security features XP provided with Service Pack 2. Vista attempts to solve the complicated patchwork of bug fixes and workarounds in Window XP SP2. For security reasons alone, Vista is likely to tempt many IT administrators to recommend an upgrade. Vista is also loaded with eye-candy, an improved desktop UI and, let's not forget, a full-fledged media center.

But Vista has higher hardware requirements than its predecessors, which are likely to be a barrier to many companies with older hardware and budgets that don't allow for capital expenditures on new PCs just to run Vista. Let's not forget that Vista itself has a price tag to go with that upgrade decision.

So does this make a case to consider Linux?

Linux has a track record of being more secure compared to Windows. In many cases, Linux is cheaper to deploy and may well also run with lower hardware requirements than Vista's. But it's not that easy, either.

Application availability is the issue for corporate desktops running Linux, such as with Office Suite and collaboration applications. However, since Windows XP launched, Linux has made strides with application availability.

On the collaboration side, for example, it's now possible to run Lotus Notes on Linux. Zimbra also makes a collaboration suite that is as good as it gets.

But if an enterprise were to migrate to Linux desktops with OpenOffice.org (OOo) as their productivity suite, many users would be challenged by their legacy Microsoft Office files that do not convert OOo files simply or accurately 100 percent of the time. However, the recent Microsoft Novell interoperability agreement may address this issue. Plus, as browser-accessible AJAX applications improve, so does application availability on Linux.

Enterprises may also consider running Windows-based applications on Linux, which is the approach that Linux vendor Xandros offers. Xandros includes the CrossOver Linux suite developed by CodeWeavers on a Linux desktop. CrossOver enables many Windows applications to be run on Linux without the need for users to purchase a separate Windows OS license.

Vista is a much improved UI than XP. But Linux is angling in the beauty department as well.

Take the Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, which rivals Vista in terms of user interface innovations and whiz-bang-pop transitions and effects. The 3D cube desktop display still blows my mind ever time I see it.

But Novell's got more than Vista to compete with. Its chief Linux rival, Red Hat, is still a few months away from rolling out its latest nterprise desktop release. This will up the ante for the Linux desktop.

Plus, Red Hat Enterprise Desktop 5 will be out at a time when Vista is on the minds of many IT administrators. No doubt, Red Hat will do its best to make sure let admins know they have another choice. It remains to be seen whether Oracle's Unbreakable Linux (which is based on Red Hat) will be offered in a desktop version or server only. Only Oracle's Larry Ellison knows, and he's no great fan of Microsoft. If Oracle enters the desktop fray it will only add even marketing muscle to the Linux desktop decision for enterprises. (Even Ubuntu, with its five years of support for its Dapper Drake Linux version, could play itself up as a cheaper alternative.)

So what do enterprises do? They might stick with their first choice and stay with whatever they have, which is likely to be the leading choice for many since it represents the path of least resistance. But as Vista proliferates, I suspect that many will come to the conclusion that the older versions of Windows they are still running represent a risk that can be avoided by migrating.

More so than ever before, the question for enterprises will be, to migrate to Vista or to give Linux a chance?

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor with internetnews.com.