OPINION

The Corporate Hoax on Linux Revisited, or I Said It Once…

The very same corporations that are making small fortunes with Linux servers give short shrift to Linux Desktop, I argued in a recent article, setting off a spirited discussion.

Many of you responded with counterarguments, siding — surprisingly — with businesses. Perhaps not surprisingly, I continue to maintain that my original centention — that corporations are playing a cruel hoax on the Linux community — is valid. Furthermore, it warrants scrutiny by those very companies I am calling out.

To fortify my case, I’ll respond here to some of the reader comments in opposition to my views.

Following are some excerpts of the feedback on my original column, in no particular order, along with my rebuttals, such as they are.

I Never Promised You Easy

“I love how some think you can just magically drop Linux in and all will be hearts and sunshine, do you HONESTLY think if it was anywhere near that easy corps wouldn’t have tried it? Linux succeeds in servers because they are controlled by these things called “admins” that have actual educations built around that OS and are paid big bucks to remain current.”I never said it was easy. What in IT is ever easy? And, *why* does it need to be easy? As for the admins “paid big bucks” to run the Linux Servers, why can’t they do the same for Desktop? I suspect there is a motherlode of Linux expertise just waiting to be tapped. Didn’t you ever wonder where the Linux Server expertise originated? Something’s got to be the chicken or the egg.

Also, this aligns with my original article in that I’m not claiming that Linux Desktop is or should be easy — and that is a reason for companies to switch. My point is that since companies reap the rewards of free Linux on their servers it would seem equitable, ethical and responsible to pony up and re-invest back into the Linux Desktop universe. Get something for free? Pay it forward. I just think it’s a good thing to do that also happens to carry with it great potential in returns on productivity of desktop users.

Not Much Office Expertise to Lose

“Here is some of the ‘fun’ you would have replacing windows with Linux on a corporate desktop — Retraining, Oh Lord is THAT one gonna cost you! The workers know MS Office like the back of their hand, despite the sugar coating OO.o is NOT MS Office, and any Excel Junkie will tell you other than Writer it isn’t even up to MS Office 97 yet.

“Then there are the ‘mission critical’ apps and macros, most of which will have NO Linux equivalent. So enjoy the money sink there and maybe with enough $$$ you can have new ones written, that is of course if your supplier doesn’t have patents on the software that makes any attempts to clone it a litigation minefield.

“If the firm uses a lot of macros who is going to convert them? And can they? And what is the cost? And are there show stoppers you did not consider in a critical application?”

The “we use Microsoft Office” argument is probably the most common — and egregious and specious — reason offered to not move to Linux Desktop. Bah! Hogwash! I especially bristle at the claim that workers “know MS Office like the back of their hand… .” Personal experience tells me otherwise.

I would rate myself a 4 on a scale of 10 in my Office expertise. But compared to what level I see others in the workplace know, I’m a 10, easily. People use Office applications at about 5 percent of the suite’s abilities. That is, the depth and breadth of use with Office products is so minimal that little stands to be lost in a conversion to an alternative. Heck, this is easy to test *without* trying Linux — set up a test group on Windows with OpenOffice.

As for the corporate muscle memory embedded in esoteric Word and Excel macros, yawn! Really? The closest I’ve seen to anything like this happens when groups break off and “roll their own” using Excel macros to write their own applications. Yes, some of these applications become important, but my experience has been that specialized “critical” applications in Office create nothing but maintenance and standardization nightmares. I mean, who writes these apps? I don’t know of *any* IT department that anoints this as accepted practice.

The rest of the customized detritus in Office apps is most certainly convertible to OpenOffice. It’s worth the time and effort to do.

One more observation — what I’ve seen with complex macros in Office is their drain on resources as they rely on features not present in other versions of Excel, Word, etc.

Drivers Are a Non-Issue

“Hardware and vendor support? Try none whatsoever. Most corps aren’t buying expensive workstations for the typing pool, they are buying dirt cheap Dells and HPs, and guess what? Those have NO Linux drivers! Yay! And who is gonna support it? Canonical? Not likely as they will probably sub contract it, no support equals no sale in corporate land.”Actually, companies don’t buy dirt cheap computers. They typically contract with manufacturers for the best price because of volume, but the computers they receive are typically a notch up in quality of components because companies don’t have time to deal with “dirt cheap” hardware.

As for “no Linux drivers,” I’m not sure where that comes from. Yes, there is some hardware out there with no readily available Linux drivers, but I’m hard-pressed to name any. I’m sure readers can provide their lists. Still, I’ve seen no evidence Linux is more deficient in available drivers. Anecdotally, my personal experience has been the opposite.

Servers Broke the ‘Conservative’ Barrier

“So I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but Windows rules the corporate land not because they like buying Windows licenses, but because the OS and software are pretty low on the price list when it comes to corporate purchases. Support, training, mission critical apps, all these things are much more important. And MCSEs are a dime a dozen, Linux gurus? Short supply and damned expensive.

First, you are living in Chicago and can’t find a shop running Linux on the Desktop? Try the financial district tending to the CBOT. There are several firms that have acres of glass sporting of all things — Ubuntu.”

Actually, I work for one of the most prestigious financial firms in Chicago. And our standard for Desktop is Windows. “As to your article proper. I think you miss both the gravity of the situation and the scope. I worked for a Fortune 10 Comm company as a desktop planner. Trust me when I say that all that sits on the desktop, the purchase cost of the hardware only ranks around line item number 6 or 7. And the OS, its cost consideration is down there about number 12-13. The lions share is support costs, maintenance. labor, another words all expense items. That metric won’t change regardless of whether the OS is free or not.”I’m aware the OS isn’t the No. 1 cost. Free vs. Microsoft’s pricing is not the issue or discussion here. “There is also another consideration. Businesses are a conservative lot. One of which is, especially for large firms, that you shove business risk onto your vendor(s) — by contract. Who is going to accept that risk for Linux? Don’t say Red Hat, they don’t do desktop. Only one firm I know has ponied up to accept that risk transfer was HP. That was for a very specific case of the SCO litigation. Microsoft within certain limits accepts that risk for their products backend or desktop. For a large firm that means the convenience of one chicken to choke. That alone has immeasurable value to a firm.” What is conservative about businesses when they choose Linux Servers? Most arguments against Linux Desktop qualify as the same for Linux Servers. Yet companies know instinctively and by dint of reputation that Linux serves them well for their most critical computing needs.

And I’ve yet to know of any large-scale situation where any large vendor accepts risk for their software. As a matter of fact, their EULAs are some of the most carefully crafted obfuscations to beg off any responsibility for damages incurred by their software. I know companies like to think they have someone they can pressure, but the day-to-day reality is that their world would be about the same running Linux. And I still think a movement to Linux Desktops would spawn a support industry much like the Red Hat server support model. Why wouldn’t it? Catch-22.

And why are companies insisting on conservatism around Desktop when they’ve solved the Linux Server riddle?

OpenOffice Requires Minimal Retraining

“Re/training — massive black hole of cost. Your insurer is going to require you have certified staff. LPI and RHCE techs are still at a premium compared to MCSE’s. That’s just your IT team. There is also the cost of the entire end user community. Regardless of the hype, the application suites ARE different.”Again the canard! What about the retraining to the newer versions of Office applications? What about training to use the ribbon?

If you answer that you don’t need training across the different Office applications, then either your users are not getting the benefit of the new and more powerful features, or they are intelligent enough to pick these up in their day-to-day. If you answer that you *do* have to train, what is different from training new versions of Office from training slightly different workalikes like OpenOffice?

I submit that getting users up to speed on OpenOffice requires minimal retraining. And considering the cost of a per-desktop license of Microsoft’s Office Suite, the cost of retraining may be offset by the savings in the free software. Again, thinking long term here.

The Linux Staffing Opportunity

“Somebody please tell me an expeditious means to lock down the kernel? Or the modules? I can see in very short order IT support facing a technical drift in their desktops without a means to lock it down at some level.”Huh? Isn’t this something already solved? How much drift is there in Linux kernels on the company servers? Why wouldn’t this be the same management issue?“Staff. Can you hire enough Linux savvy people? Personally I don’t see it as [a] problem. But business can sometime screw up a known win by doing it wrong. So itbecomes a worry.”I agree — I don’t see this as a problem. It’s an opportunity. There isn’t a major shop out there that doesn’t have Linux support staff potential. Linux is popular because it’s good. A quick caucus of the current IT staff would probably reveal a core beginning support team.

Perceived Risk vs. Actual Return

I’m glad readers raised these issues — they made some good points. I don’t dispute all of their claims — I only ask and hope that companies look past some of the perceived speed bumps for longer-term return on their investments.

Maybe in these harder economic times, it seems even riskier to migrate to a new platform. But maybe, just maybe, these are the times in which the return on investment would be greater than ever. Linux Desktop is waiting.


Elbert Hannah lives in the Chicago area and does production and scheduling support for a large financial firm. He wrote the most recent edition of O’Reilly’s Learning the vi and Vim Editors. He has used Linux and worked actively in the open source community for over 10 years. In and around the house, he has more than 10 instances of Linux and as many versions and distros. He doesn’t like technical religious wars and prefers things to be sorted out by merit. He loves the Beatles and thinks the greatest album recorded is Abbey Road.

8 Comments

  • You don’t seem to understand that Windows is the expected environment on the desktop at all companies, large and small and inbetween. In order to make a decision to change to Linux or Apple you have to convince some fairly high level decision maker.

    If the Windows environment were truly collapsing around them and things were in the kind of chaos that many anti-Windows bloggers seem to believe, then the decisions would be forthcoming, but the reality is that no one has their tail on fire that way with some desperation to see it put out.

    Also the amount of work needed to influence such a decision is massive and there is no financial reward for the person who performs that effort. If an owner of a business gets the bug to save money on Windows and use Linux, the move can be made, but the owner rarely understands the method involved and would have to find an IT assistant to do the work and it is hard to pay a bunch of money up front in salary against some pie in the sky benefit down the road. There is the tale of some guitar string maker who was burned by the BSA and switched to Linux out of spite, but such happenings are few and far between.

    At the end of the day, nothing is done because no one really cares.

  • All the arguments against Linux on the desktop that talk about retraining users and support staff are BS. Does anyone remember when Windows 95 came out? It was nothing like Windows 3.x in look or feel or functionality. There were all kinds of training classes in nearly every aspect of business needed to make the switch.

    At the time I was working for the US Army and we did a pilot program to see what the difference was between moving from Win3x to Win95. The cost for training was identical. Today, with the different Linux desktops being even easier to setup and maintain, the cost would likely be lower.

    And don’t get me started about MS Office vs Open Office. The amount of time and money needed to retrain everyone to use that stupid ribbon interface was ridicules. It would have been cheaper and easier to just move to OO then.

    • Can I come live in candyland too? We are NOT talking about some LUG here, we are talking dozens to hundreds to thousands of corporate desktops, okay? I kinda think your "Linux Gurus" might actually want to be paid. And Google? BWA HA HA HA HA HA! Yes sir, you just march in there and tell that middle manager that while he is looking at a black screen single user mode he just needs to hop right up and Google it, BWA HA HA!

      And frankly if you were getting bugs on Windows 7? Than A-=You were running the Razr1911 AKA, the stolen version, which surprise, don’t get updates or have any of the security turned on because it will trip WGA, B-=You went and turned off WGA and then proceeded to install crud from the net, which that is nobody’s fault but yours, or C-= You refused to even take the tiniest bot of care or even pay attention to the pop up from Action Center that said "You don’t have an AV. Would you like one?" where it would offer you a choice of several free AVs.

      Answer me a question: How much CLI did you use to set up your wonderful Ubuntu? How much CLI did you use when you found a problem? How many times did you hit the forums? Because frankly after setting up nearly a half dozen different machines with Ubuntu as test cases, all using bog standard hardware, I can tell you the answer is "Too much".

      I let my 67 year old dad install Windows 7 by himself. Never installed ANY Os, didn’t have a clue. I was willing to do it for him but he decided not to wait until I was free and did it himself. Know how many problems he had? Know how many missing drivers? NONE. It all"just worked" and Win7 even downloaded the drivers for his funky webcam.

      Look for servers, especially web servers? Linux is fine. embedded devices? Rock solid. desktops? Total mess. If it is just me answer me this: Why is NO retail B&M stores carrying your OS, even though it would save us money? Believe me MSFT don’t cut me no checks, or even give me any discounts. We don’t carry your product because it is a mess, with NO stable hardware ABIs, an insane 6 month release cycle where one thing is fixed and two broken, and developers that frankly couldn’t care less about desktops, just ask Con Kolivas. You mark my words Canonical is getting wise to this, and they WILL fork the kernel away from Linus. Maybe then you’ll have a solid desktop product. But right now it is a mess. Sorry.

  • That was a great article. I’m using Ubuntu Linux. I replaced Windows 7 with Ubuntu over a year ago and it has been the best choice. I’m amazed at how easy it is to use and how many techy choices I have. I put Ubuntu on a USB and I boot from that at school when I have classes or I’m in the computer lab. So I don’t even TOUCH MS Windows anymore. In fact, Linux finds the classroom printer and I can literally do everything the other students can do…and more. Ubuntu finds every printer on the network. So I can print to any room in the building on any printer model. I can also open, export, modify any document that I come across. That’s Ubuntu right out of the box. I didn’t have to buy anything.

    Also, @the previous poster….umm…if somebody writes an email to you and you quote them, I don’t think you need to give them credit. It’s just an email.

    • I think you’re on an MS high horse. You aren’t backing up your arguments very well. Just by saying Linux techys are expensive isn’t enough. First of all, I had some Linux guru friends and colleagues in the past. If there was a problem somewhere, they offered to help for free. Linux has incredible support but it doesn’t come from a paid help desk person. You merely Google your problem. Guess what? You will find it in vast numbers. I Google error messages and sometimes have to strain myself to type out one or two keywords. Oh, it’s suffering…. all that copying and pasting…and then to have to type out the keyword too! Ohhh… Linux is so difficult. I suffer so much. 😉

      I wanted to also address your argument that you think Windows 7 is secure. Wow. First, I removed it because it was too prone to a virus. I had cleaned off several computers that had gotten infected when finally I couldn’t tolerate it anymore and I installed Linux. I was reluctant because I was pretty good with Linux many years ago, a lot now has changed and I forgot what I knew. Guess what? It was great! Ubuntu was so fly that I use it now everywhere I go. I don’t even touch MS. That is because Ubuntu is a better, more compatible product.

      To this day, my only Linux issue is that some hardware manufacturers do not yet play ball. This is to their own demise, I think. Lexmark doesn’t seem to have any interest in supporting Linux and thus, they won’t get my sale. But, every HP and Brother I have seen is supported. Lexmark was never very good anyways so no worries. 😀

      • Hello hairyfeet. I didn’t rip anything sent to Katherine. I did quote comments sent to me in my last article, as I stated up front in this article. You are correct, there is quite a bit of copied material in this article, again, to provide context for my replies. Are you sure the comments you mention were sent to Ms. Noyes? (If you look at the comments in my last article I do believe you will find where I sourced my quotes.)

        I appreciate the feedback, and will be more careful to attribute material provided by others.

  • this guy wrote an article about a field he clearly knows nothing about. he is taking common concerns people have and just writing them off without really addressing them.
    I never said it was easy. What in IT is ever easy? And, why does it need to be easy? As for the admins "paid big bucks" to run the Linux Servers, why can’t they do the same for Desktop?
    windows. windows is easy. bc i have 7 servers i keep running smoothly. that is enough of a job on top of my other work. why would i possibly want to add 200 desktops and laptops and production department computers on top of that?? i’d be running around fixing shit all day long. with windows, my employees know enough that that task is minimized.
    Heck, this is easy to test without trying Linux — set up a test group on Windows with OpenOffice.
    i have done this test. twice. it failed miserably both times. my employees hate open office. its just not there yet.
    Drivers Are a Non-Issue – Actually, companies don’t buy dirt cheap computers. They typically contract with manufacturers for the best price because of volume, but the computers they receive are typically a notch up in quality of components because companies don’t have time to deal with "dirt cheap" hardware.
    this guy really has no fucking clue what hes talking about. No company runs out and buys new computers all the time. even my friends who work at dell, a fucking computer company, use computers that are several years old and would most likely have issues with linux drivers.
    And why are companies insisting on conservatism around Desktop when they’ve solved the Linux Server riddle?
    good lord man. the server is not the desktop. they are 2 completely different things. you cant possibly be comparing them.
    I submit that getting users up to speed on OpenOffice requires minimal retraining.
    another side track ignoring the fact that OO doesnt render office documents the same way as office. and its interface looks like it was stuck in 1992. and if you want to save and open ms office ( which everyone else uses ) by default you have to navigate a series of menus and settings and comboboxes.
    A quick caucus of the current IT staff would probably reveal a core beginning support team.
    complete speculation and not any kind of real evidence to support opinion
    I only ask and hope that companies look past some of the perceived speed bumps for longer-term return on their investments.
    maybe if linux people took these concerns seriously instead of just writing them off as "perceived", linux might actually become a valid option for the corporate desktop. i know i would certainly like it to be.
    where theres smoke theres fire.

  • If you are gonna rip what I wrote to Ms Noyes, at least give me credit, kay? you pretty much took every single sentence I wrote to her and didn’t even bother to say where you got it. Rude much?

    As for the rest, thanks for pointing out why you don’t "get" it, and probably never will. Bragging your product is hard? Some kinda stupid. And your "untapped" Linux gurus? Maybe in NYC or LA, NOT in anywhere else, not in enough numbers to matter. I am friends with quite a few of them and their pay? Fricking expensive. The simple fact is I can hire THREE MCSEs for the price of ONE okay, not great mind you, just okay, Linux guru. And that is IF I can find one, which ain’t easy.

    And another thing, why should I have to? what are you offering that is in ANY way better? Don’t you dare say "free as in freedom!" because unless your initials are RMS we really don’t care. See the runaway success of iDevices for an example.

    Despite the FUD that you need a dozen MCSEs to equal one Linux guru (total lie BTW, the ONLY place I have found that true is high load balancing servers, a seriously small niche, as MSFT doesn’t scale well in web servers) you have NO offering that equals the ease of use and fine grained control a single MSCE has with AD+Exchange+Sharepoint+Windows desktops. None whatsoever. The best you’ve got is a bunch of badly bolted together apps that "kinda sorta" work together, except when they don’t. That REALLY makes me want to shell out the $$$$$ to change out my infrastructure.

    The simple facts are your arguments are dead. Windows security since Vista is pretty damned good, with Windows 7 it is damned solid thanks to tech like ASLR and DEP and the built in file and registry virtualization. if you wanna compete in that market you can’t bring something that is "good enough" you gotta be BETTER, and your product just ain’t. The reason Linux "sells" in servers? One word: CALs. MSFT CALs are stupid priced, making Linux hassles worth it. The desktop has NO such weakness. Your security by obscurity isn’t worth losing the 100,000 specialized apps out there for business that are Windows only, and you haven’t made a compelling case why anyone should change. NO SALE.

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