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Held Hostage by Microsoft?

I have had a number of contacts recently from people asking me how they can "get away from Windows". The problems they cite are the poor record for Microsoft in the area of security and viruses and (probably more importantly) the increasing expense of Microsoft software.

For most companies, you really cannot avoid Microsoft 100%. If you are fortunate enough to run Unix based server software, you probably still are dependent upon Windows programs like Microsoft Word or Powerpoint. Expensive as they are, many of you just cannot operate without them.

However, the situation isn't totally bleak. You don't have to be completely "held hostage" (I've heard that phrase often recently). Some of you can escape Windows completely: I do have customers who are entirely Linux based. If your main software is Unix based, and your desktops primarily only need to print or exchange documents with each other, it is quite possible to have no Microsoft products at all. Under those conditions, it is possible to use free or very low cost software entirely: Open Office and Star Office are not 100% compatible with Microsoft Office, but they are pretty darn close. These products can also run on Windows desktops if your desire is just to avoid the cost of Microsoft Office.

Another way to limit the use of Windows is to use Windows Terminal Server. Products like Tarantella and Citrix let you easily keep all Windows applications on one server. The advantages of that are that you more easily control upgrades, security patches etc. (because it is all on one server) and that your desktops no longer have to be Windows at all.

It's not all smooth sailing though: www.linuxworld.com /2003/0401.tsu.html (link dead, sorry) is an interesting look at a non-geek's experiences with Linux. While Linux zealots will insist that this was an unnecessarily bad experience with older software, the fact is that Linux just is NOT as completely user friendly as Windows is.

I think at this point I'd be recommending Mac OX X to someone like this. Not that OS X is perfect either. But it does combine most of the smoothness of Windows with most of the power and flexibility of Linux. You might question that last part: since it is BSD, why "most of"? Well, the integration of the Macish stuff does interfere a little bit (some Unixy stuff just isn't the same), but I'm thinking more of the non-geek user who wants to dabble in the Unix side. Most of what they'd want is easily available from the Linux side, and can be easily compiled on Mac OS X, but of course it isn't 100% - so I say "most".

Keynote is the Mac replacement for Powerpoint, by the way.

However, in a controlled environment, where desktops will be installed and configured by someone else and users will only run the applications provided to them, a Linux only environment can be very useful.

If you really want to get away from Microsoft, you can certainly do so do a greater or lesser degree. The effort will not be without problems, but on the other hand it is getting easier every day. while there are still some holdouts among software application vendors who have remained 100% Windows, more and more are putting out Linux or Linux versions. There's a definite recognition of this desire, and the vendors are paying attention.

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