Many small businesses have avoided Linux for a variety of reasons: not enough applications, complexity of installation or that it requires too much technical know-how to run. The technology has matured over many years, which raises the question: how valid are these considerations today?
"At this point, this is more of a perception issue than a real business issue," says Chip Nickolett, a systems integrator with Comprehensive Consulting Solutions, Inc., of Brookfield, Wisc., a company that has installed Linux in businesses of all sizes. "While Linux has become more accepted in the business environment, many still view it as geekware. Those companies look at Microsoft the way companies used to look at IBM--as the safe choice."
He points out that Linux has improved in many areas over the past few years. First and foremost, he says, in performance and reliability. "It usually just works, something a small business appreciates," says Nickolett. "Software installation and patch management have improved dramatically and graphical desktop tools are continually evolving."
He also notes that a wide range of products and applications are now supported on Linux. Almost any small-to-medium-size business, he believes, could find what they need on Linux.
As an example, he discusses a small specialty manufacturing shop in the Midwest that had to upgrade its database. It used the opportunity to move to a Red Hat Linux platform. This required only minor application changes, and the in-house IT person--who was not previously trained on Linux--could easily look after the environment.
"When you factor in the cost of hardware and the cost of support, Red Hat was more attractive from a cost-benefit perspective," says Nickolett. "Given this company's limited budget, open source was very appealing--especially over the course of several years."