Which is true? At Daily Data, we believe they all have a germ of truth, and all three of the main operating systems have their strengths an their weaknesses. Since this is a Linux web site targeting small to medium businesses, however, we will simply look at how Linux can help that these entities.

Linux is the future of computing.

Windows is the only way to go.

Anything but Mac OS/X is stupid.

Linux, Windows, Apple logos

Linux on the Desktop

While Linux has been used as servers almost since its release in 1991, its use as a workstation has been less rapid. Just ten years ago, a Linux workstation was used by only a few technically knowledgeable users.

However, over the past decade this has changed, especially with the introduction of freely available open source projects that directly compete with business needs on Windows and OSX. LibreOffice.org is a freely available Word Processor/Spreadsheet/Presentation suite that easily rivals offerings from Microsoft and Corel. GnuCash, while billed as a Personal Accounting Package can also handle accounting for many small businesses, and FrontAccounting can handle the needs not met by GnuCash. Firefox and Thunderbird are giving other web browsers and e-mail programs tough competition on all operating systems, and for basic graphics handling, the GIMP is quite adequate.

Linux as a desktop operating system brings many pluses as compared to Windows and OSX. It has a reliability equivilent to OSX, able to work for long periods of time without reboots or the computer acting weird. We recently had a client who grumpily agreed to reboot his Linux workstation when we asked him to do so to repair some problems, telling us he had had it running continuously for 9 months without a reboot, so why should he do so now. Linux also supports a wider variety of hardware than Apple OSX, so there is a wider combination of hardware to choose from.

Linux does have its downsides as a workstation also. A lot of new hardware generally lags slightly for Linux compatibility as many manufacturers have not made interfacing with their devices possible with Linux. You have to be very careful about your choice of video cards; nVidia is almost always supported, but ATI cards are rather spotty and prone to random failures. Basically, the more proprietary a hardware manufacturer is, the less likely they will provide the information required to make their hardware work under Linux. Additionally, there are still a few "Windows only" or "Apple only" applications (programs) that really have no competition on Linux. While GIMP is good for most users, Photoshop still rules on high end graphics applications.

However, for most small businesses who need to write documents, build spreadsheets and track finances, there is no advantage to using anything other than Linux.

Linux as a Server

With few minor exceptions (explained below), there is no reason to use anything but a Linux server.

The most common use of a server is to hold files. Whenever a company grows beyond two workstations, finding important documents, spreadsheets and accounting information becomes an issue. Having all files stored on a single, centralized computer (a file server) becomes a need.

With a history dating back to the 1970's, Unix is unparalleled in reliability for the small to medium business. Linux, which is the latest of the multitudes of Unicies, excels in file services, offering unparalleled reliability for an excellent cost. Add the ability to install Version Control, Database Services and Web/e-mail services on the same machine, and you have a value that reduces your computer costs to the absolute minimum.

There are a few exceptions where Linux (or any Unix) is not feasible. Recently, a few Windows based accounting packages have been modified to where they will only work if the information is stored on a Windows server. Peachtree, Quicken and QuickBooks are three of these. While there are some "work arounds" that can "make it work", it is still in the realm of nerds playing around. However, Linux has some nice accounting packages that either approach or equal these three packages. But, in some cases, it just doesn't make sense to change, and when that happens, you need a Windows server.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

There is a lot of chatter about Total Cost of Ownership. Searching the web, you see many people prostelyzing their views; Windows is better, Linux is better, Apple is better. At Daily Data, we can only speak from our own experience.

Linux can run on computers that are simply too underpowered for Windows, or not supported by Apple. In a few cases, when cost has been the major factor, we have taken old Windows workstations that were too underpowered for their older uses, tested them, and set them up to be Linux file servers for clients. Cost: $100 for testing, and $250 to install Linux.

Linux requires little to no maintenance. While we prefer to perform manual updates on any computer, be it Windows, OSX or Linux, all three can be set up to automatically update themselves. However, Windows requires manual reboots after many updates, meaning you still have to have someone check on the server occasionally. This is not the case for either OSX or Linux. While Windows has come a long way since the days where it would automatically shut down every three months, it still requires attention on a regular basis. We have had Linux servers we love, because we simply check on them every quarter or so and that is all. Linux servers which have been on line, with no downtime, for over a year, are so common it does not register as important. At Daily Data, our personal record was around 3 years, and that was broken when we had to physically move the server from one location to another.

Linux is less prone to extended periods between problem discoveries and repairs for those problems. In some cases, Linux problems have been discovered, fixed, and the fix made available for automatic download and install in less than 24 hours. With Windows, Microsoft will release updates on every Tuesday, thus, even at maximum efficiency, the fix for a problem discovered on Wednesday will not be available until the following week. And, in many cases Windows bug fixes are hidden for months until a fix is made available. Your system is vulnerable between the time a problem is discovered and the time it is fixed. With Linux, that period is generally less than 24 hours.

Finally, the cost of the installation. With Windows, you have the cost for the operating system, and the cost for the installation. With many distributions of Linux, you only have the cost of the installation. Windows 2012 Server start between $500 and $700. Debian Linux is free, and even the commercial versions of Linux are under $500. Installation and configuring of Windows 2012 by Daily Data starts at $750, compared to a base cost of $500 for installing and configuring Debian Linux.

All in all, the Total Cost of Ownership, from lower hardware costs, lower maintenance and greater reliability, and initial installation costs, makes Linux the server operating system of choice, unless you have requirements that preclude its use.

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