Back in 2017 Medium posted about a small technology firm switching to Linux for all of there client machines. Here is in 2021, I’m curious to see how many businesses will ditch Windows for Linux on client machines.

As Medium poined out, the transition is not as scary as it may sound. Back in 2017, there may have been a few minor speed bumps. Mostly, many business applications just don’t run on Linux. By business applications, I’m referring, of course, to things like Quickbooks, but with the recent acceptance of SaaS applications, this is probably much less of an issue in 2021. As I write this, even Microsoft has began writing code for Mac, Windows, and Linux. The editor I use most of the day is VS Code, in Linux. Maybe even Microsoft is seeing this transition as inevitable?

What employees use on a daily basis.

I think it’s important to break down what most, non-technical, employees use on a daily basis. Take for instance one of my company’s clients, a relativly small business with around 20 client systems. On a daily basis I’d break their application usage into two major catagories.

General applications

General applications are things almost everybody uses

  • Word and Excel (Word and Excel just don’t work in Linux, but there are OpenSource Word Processing and Spreadsheet solutions that work very well in Linux, additionally, Office 365 versions work just fine in the browser of a Linux computer)
  • Email is a pretty easy one as well. Online email applications are easy to work with and work well in the browser as well.

That’s honestly really it in the general category which leads us to the more specific, and problematic, line of business applications.

Line of business applications and proprietary applications

Proprietary applications are really the only pain point of a Linux workstation, but not all is lost. Let’s look at some of those applications, and then we’ll look at solutions.

  • Quickbooks (I’ll note that the only real concern is the desktop version of Quickbooks. If you’re using online, you’re set)
  • Specific Line of business applications such as a Windows CRM or something like a quoting tool.
  • Photoshop
  • PDF Form creation

In these relativly minor cases, there can be some simple solutions. For one, it’s becoming less common for CRM software to be client based, meaning most CRMs are now going web these days, which is generally fully supported. Quoting tools and accounting programs like Quickbooks desktop can be a little more tricky. In those cases, it’s rare that everyone at an organization needs access to them. It’s possible in some cases to run these programs inside a wrapper that emulates a Windows system and in some cases a simple Virtual Machine running on Linux is an easy to use solution. I’ll stress that you loose some of the benefits of using Virtual machines so if a large portion of your workforce needs a tool that can’t be used in the above wrapper or in the browser, it might be best to stick with Windows.

Benefit of going Linux

So what are the Benfits of going Linux. These can be summed up into a few categories:

Security

I view Window’s security practcies as kind of messy. It sems like we’ve got new volnerbilities every week and patches can sometimes be a mess. This comes from working with clients and dealing with really painful Microsoft patching.

Along those same lines, Linux operates much differently than Windows in terms of access control. Linux, in more distributions, protects the primary core of the operating system as fully as possible. Even administrative users are not given full admin access to the machine. They must invoke admin rights when they need them and only when they need them (sudo for those of you familiar with Linux)

Cost

Lincensing costs seem to have leveled out of late, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t change. Where Microsoft is going with Windows 10 is a big question. Will Windows 10 be the last major release of an operating system. By that do I mean will it just be a continuous update from now until, well when? Similarly, to support many of these workstations, in an office environment, it’s common to have a Windows server sitting in the back room to do things like distribute group policies, control user logins, maybe share some files, etc. More recently, this has migrated to the cloud as well, but that also comes at a cost. While I’m not saying you wouldn’t need that server under a Linux environment, you’d likely not need the Windows licensing, which is a hefty cost as versions roll over. Over the last several years, I’ve also been astonished at how much licensing for Windows server versions actually cost.

At this point, you might not have realized, that Linux is free. Yea, I said free. There is no License cost for Linux (in most cases). Most people are boggled when I tell them this. The way it works is Linux is supported by a community of developers that have a general interest in the product for their own uses. Each contributes code they see as benefitial. This community has a huge stake in making sure the software is secure because they use it themselves. There are in, in some cases, companies that support the development of a particular distribution of Linux of other open source software. In some cases these companies offer the community edition as open source and have a closed source version available for purchase.

You might be woundering how it can be secure if it’s written by a huge community. Let me pose a question: would you rather have a 100 person development team looking at the code and finding bugs and security issues, or say 11,000 +? I’m not saying nothing gets by, but under a proprietary license system, nobody but the developers can see the code. If they don’t want to fix security issues, they don’t have to. They don’t even have to tell you about them! That just won’t fly with public code.

Privacy

Privacy seems to be 2021’s theme so far. If you’ve been paying attention, new privacy policies of What’s App have sparked a heavy migration to Signal. A recent post of social media showed a 5 times increase in uses, just on Android in a matter of a week! It seems maybe people are actually worried about privacy.

Truthfully, we don’t really know a whole lot about how Microsoft uses your data on Windows 10. If the privacy settings seen during installation are any indication, it’s probably quite a bit though. Similar tech companies have cashed in on your data for their own financial gain. Scanning emails, chats, web history, and even listening into your conversations via your cell phone have all been thought to be in play. Windows has similar voice services. One must wounder if this is listening as well. No one knows for sure (okay somebody knows, but I don’t like to speculate) if these apps and programs are listening but I’ve seen it first hand. Discussing something in my home with my wife. Something I’ve never talked about before (an investment if you will) and not five minutes later I’m seeing ads on social media for an investment firm that specialized in that investment! To be clear: I wasn’t using an app, I didn’t do any searches online, I didn’t even open my phone. We were sitting at the table talking. Scary stuff!

Some say, they’re not that concerned about privacy. I say it’s a personal decision, but if you look at how much companies are anti-privacy right now, I’d say there might be more to it. One thing is for certain, they stand to make a lot of money from advertising products marketed directly to you based on your data!

Ease of administration

This might be damaging to my business, but administering Linux is a lot easier and less time consuming. There are many ways this is true, mostly security and the Linux structure help prevent issues before they arrise. I stll get updates that need to be installed and there are occassional issues I need to work out, but on the whole a Linux client is much easier to manage. That said, you’re still going to need someone that is competent with Linux. I’d venture to guess most system admins are much more familiar with Windows desktop. I’m the reverse, I’m much more comfortable in a Linux environment.

So if everyone is on Windows, how do we know Linux is so great…

Fair question, and I included this because many do not know that they interact with Linux every single day, probably most of the day. It’s hard to know for sure but it’s safe to say Linux took over the web. Estimates from 2016 show 67% of web servers are running unix or unix-like operating systems. I’d argue that number is far higher than 67%. I don’t think I’ve seen a Windows web host in 15 years. I know some hosting companies offer this, but again, I’ve not seen it very often and I doubt it’s very common. Most web hosting uses Linux.

It’s more than that though, not just websites use Linux. Most servers in general (aside from active directory) utilize Linux. Your web based SaaS is probably Linux based. Social media app backends largely use Python(a programming lanugage) on Linux.

Linux is very well versed in the server world. The desktop version of Linux have come a long way.

What Linux really needs to play with the big boys?

In reaility, Linux might be only missing a few key componesnts to really start to take on big tech giants. One of those is management. Windows has group policy and now Azure Active Directory. I’ll admit here Azure AD makes it simple (well as simple as Microsoft makes anything 🙄) to administer many machines and none of them have to be on the network like with active directory. Linux has simimilar services, I’ll admit to not having much experience but I believe most are geared towards a server environment rather than client environments. So really, Linux needs a good client management system like Azure AD or Active directory.

A growing user base. Really, Linux just needs it’s user base to expand more. It’s growing steadily but getting people to change is difficult so this takes time. We’ll see where we’re at in another 10 years?

Summary

So is Linux right for your business? There are a lot of questions that need to be awnsered but I’d say in some rare cases you’ll have some issues or limitations but for the most part I think a migration to Linux could save your business big and bolster security at the same time. If you’re interested in figuring out if Linux is a good alternative in your business, feel free to reach out to my business, Tech 360 LLC. We would love to take a look at how we can help.