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It's all about open source options

Linux now provides a real alternative

When Firefox 1.0 came out in early November, the praise was deafening. Although the technical accolades heaped upon the capable internet browser were well-deserved, the biggest factor behind the excitement was simple: freedom of choice.

Granted, Opera has been available for a while, but it remains the province of a devoted few – the Amiga of web browsers. And while the Mozilla browser has been around for years, its UI left something to be desired.

The popularity of Firefox is a new twist in the microcosmic browser wars and represents something larger for IT: another secure and capable technology option in the face of entrenched solutions such as Internet Explorer. Firefox is really about another viable option for IT.

The most interesting bellwether for IT options is the desktop. Recently, I took a quick inventory of the key applications I use regularly and came up with this list: IM client, PDF reader, Web browser, VPN client, simple text editor, email client, and MS Office. If I were working in a different corporate environment, I might use a Windows Terminal Server client to administer Windows machines, and I might use a Citrix client for certain tasks.

I'm mostly using Mac OS X (a solid choice for all the above apps) but Linux is becoming ever more intriguing. It's the first time that I can count three relatively stable, broadly supported desktop OS options.

The problem with Linux has always been lack of good software for the desktop, but with the release of top-notch software such as Firefox, that objection holds less water. Even beyond Firefox, each of the previously mentioned applications has a perfectly capable and often elegant counterpart in the Linux world.

The Gaim IM client would be familiar even to IM novices, Adobe distributes an Acrobat Reader for Linux, Cisco provides its VPN clients for Linux, and Evolution is a user-friendly open source email client even a fool could use.

Anyone who has used OpenOffice or StarOffice 7 knows that either of those office suites will perform 98 percent of corporate tasks with no problem, and both suites are only improving. For the IT power user, there's the Windows Terminal Server client and, if you must have a Citrix client, no problem – that’s there, too.

The other big knock on the Linux desktop has been lack of support. But with the release of the Novell Linux Desktop earlier this month and the release of the Sun JDS (Java Desktop System) earlier this year, even conservative IT shops can exercise desktop OS choice with offerings from two of the industry's heavy hitters. For most shops, the lingering objection is disruption brought about by change. But anyone in IT who flees from disruptive change should probably look for another line of work.

I'm not suggesting that IT staffs start yanking the Windows machines away from their users willy-nilly. I'm just saying that it's now possible from a technical standpoint, as long as you can make the financial case – and with Linux, that's usually the least difficult part.


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