Ubuntu vs. Windows 7 on the business desktop

Microsoft Windows may be the de facto standard desktop operating system in business environments, but high costs, restrictive licences and constant security issues are leading an increasing number of companies to consider open source alternatives — as Kat Orphanides explains.

Pricing & SupportFor all its good points, Ubuntu's real strength and its main advantage over Windows 7 is its price. Since it's an open source project, Ubuntu costs nothing to install and use on any number of PCs, for any purpose. Volume licensing for Windows 7, on the other hand, costs around 125 + VAT per copy, with another 306 for an Office 2010 volume licence. Even if an operating system doesn't cost anything, there are always costs involved with its use, usually in the form of support.More pertinent is the price of a new system with or without Windows 7 installed, An HP Workstation with Windows 7 Home Premium costs 372 + VAT, for example, while the same system with FreeDOS (HP's default no-OS option) costs 313 + VAT a 59 saving. Similar savings are valuable from other PC vendors.

In practice, even if an operating system and software don't cost anything to acquire, there are always costs involved with their use, usually in the form of support. Linux is no more expensive than Windows in this regard though, and Canonical offers its own 24/7 support service for businesses, starting from $105 (around 66) per desktop, per year.

Similarly, London-based support firm Help4IT quoted an initial cost of 650 and a basic monthly fee of 273 (both ex VAT) for both 10 clients and one server, for both Windows 7 and Ubuntu.

Conclusions

Ubuntu 11.10 is a mature and capable desktop operating system that's a massive improvement even over the previous 11.04 release. The Unity UI may not immediately appeal to long-term Linux users, but it's polished, intuitive and easy to use and end-users won't ever have to worry about using the command line interface or arcane driver configuration options. Security is also a major strength, as is the no-cost nature of most Linux software, although this latter feature may sometimes mean putting up with a lack of refinement here and there. The biggest issue with Ubuntu and Linux in general, however, is familiarity. Users may require retraining to adequately cope with the way Linux works, but this is no different to that required for people switching from Mac OS X to Windows, for example.

Verdict

After years of all-too-valid complaints that Linux isn’t ready for the desktop, Ubuntu 11.10 genuinely is. It’s not a perfect feature-for-feature match for Windows 7 or Mac OS X any more than either of those major desktop operating systems is for the other, but Ubuntu has proved to be stable, secure, widely compatible and surprisingly easy to use. The ease with which the desktop environment can be locked down without removing key functionality is of particular benefit within a corporate environment and, as long as there’s a support team on hand to manage the transition, there’s nothing to prevent end-users more used to Windows from switching seamlessly.

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