Saturday, May 18, 2024

Dual Booting Windows-Linux: The Dell Option

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Generally when a company is considering an upgrade to new workstations or notebook computers, they will elect to use Microsoft Windows. Not out of love for the operating system, rather out of understanding for the importance of familiarity and compatibility with the existing office ecosystem. Sounds like a good approach, until the ecosystem breaks down with a security breach targeting the OS used almost exclusively by the business in question.

I believe the logical option that is missed these days is a second OS option, a tool that enables your IT staff to navigate the minefield that a security breach may have caused. That tool? The common Linux distribution.

Vista may be safe, but should your company put its trust in a single OS?

There is no question that Windows Vista is light years ahead in security when compared to Windows releases of years past. Yet the question of putting too much trust into one single operating system remains. I distinctly remember the rather simplistic ‘Blaster Worm’ ripping through hospitals, DMV offices, and a variety of other enterprise environments.

Considering the fact that the patch for this worm’s payload existed even before the worm itself actually hit, the event proves that IT departments everywhere need an improved back-up plan, should using Windows become impossible. Having a malware resistant solution during such events would have made a world of difference.

At the end of the day, however, the question of who installs the ‘back-up’ OS remains. Is going with an OEM option, dual-boot solution the best option here?

“Dude, you’re getting a Dell!”

The cost involved with the existing IT team installing the selected Linux distribution onto all of the workstations and notebooks throughout the company is frankly not a viable option. A wiser choice would be to look into an OEM solution with companies like Dell, as they can provide you with pre-configured workstations that offer Linux installed and ready to go. If a dual-boot environment is needed, many Linux OEMs are willing to work with your IT team to ensure that replacement machines are dual-boot ready with the latest copy of Windows Vista.

If your team needs something with a bit more power in a notebook form factor, then looking into Lenovo might be the best option. SuSE Linux notebooks for the entire IT team, which dual-boot Vista, will make any IT manager feel more secure should something malicious hit the network.

Going OEM not only makes more sense than in-house Linux installation, it can also save your company money in the long term by preventing any system configuration issues.

Is your IT Department Linux ready?

Assuming the purchase and installation of the new dual-boot workstations/notebooks went according to plan, there remains one important piece to this puzzle that is often overlooked: Is your IT team Linux ready? Key members of your IT dept should be Linux certified, so that they can work securely within the Linux realm.

Other options include hiring a consultant, or even just bringing in new employees who are already certified for the particular distribution in question. Below, I’ll explore each option and how each would potentially affect your company.

Hiring a consultant: Bringing in a consultant is a great way to get your IT staff up to speed when time is an issue. On the flip side, however, there remains a question as to long-term value. Should something unexpected come up, your IT department is then faced with a challenge that they might not be able to handle. This means – again – bringing in outside help, in one form or another. So while consultants are great for the short term, they leave a lot to be desired in a dynamic enterprise environment.

Training your existing IT team: Knowing your existing team can learn the basics quickly enough to become proficient in no time flat, in-house training is a viable option to consider. Even when Linux is used only as a quick back-up or for a speedy data recovery, understanding the basics will save on unneeded calls to outside support. The obvious downside is that this training adds cost and requires staff to spend time away from daily duties.

Microsoft Patent Threats?

Anytime an IT department explores the viability of Linux being added to their enterprise environment, the question of ‘patent violations’ come up, especially here in the U.S. Despite the fact that there has been zero proof publicly issued to support Microsoft’s’ claims, those companies in the U.S. considering Linux are put into a rather uncomfortable position.

To help those who maintain concerns with Microsoft patents, I would point out the following: there are distributions that have agreed to pay Microsoft’s ‘patent fees’ for you (they are mentioned below). The one thing to be aware of is that most popular workstations are featuring Ubuntu, not either of the distributions mentioned below. On the plus side, locating notebooks with SuSE Enterprise Linux is relatively easy.

Novell’s SLED 10: If I was in a position where the boss was breathing down my neck over the potential threat of Microsoft patent violations, using Novell’s SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 would be the distribution that I would choose. Offered by a mature, established company like Novell, it gives you and your team piece of mind in knowing that SLED 10 support will be there, should things get sticky with compatibility issues. Designed for the enterprise user by enterprise users, this is my desktop of choice for those in the U.S. with concerns over Microsoft’s patent threats.

Xandros: Providing your users with VPN, easy connectivity to the Internet and a Window-like security suite, this distribution feels so much like Windows that it is surprising that Microsoft has not acquired it yet.

Unfortunately, locating desktop workstations with either OS installed is a challenge. I’ve checked a number of Linux desktop PC distributors and all of them are either going with OpenSuSE or Ubuntu. So it might be worth contacting either of the distribution vendors above to see what options they recommend.

Can Dell provide Microsoft patent assurances?

The final question in this piece is whether or not Dell is providing users with Microsoft’s ‘patent protection’. Regardless of its perceived need to you and I, the fact remains that most companies fear using Linux without it. I have looked all over Dell’s Website and in no uncertain terms, they have done wonders at burying this information. I entered their Live Chat appliance to get this question regarding Microsoft patents answered, only to find myself waiting for over 15 minutes.

Frustrated, I did a little more research and have still not come up with a clear answer to this. Then it hit me – Dell does not want to address this publicly. Think about it for a minute, if Dell admits to paying Microsoft for ‘patent protection’, Ubuntu users will be turned off by the hundreds. For further clarification, I suggest reading this closely.

I think for pre-installed solutions on the workstation front, Dell may be ‘it’. Knowing full well that they would not want to jeopardize their existing relationship with Microsoft, I would bet hard money that they are indeed paying for Microsoft’s patent protection. Still, it would be a wise move to contact them and verify this, just to make sure. Not because Microsoft’s patent claims will ever come to a head with those who they claim are in violation, rather because the execs that run your company might very well come unglued at the prospect of setting them up for a potential lawsuit.

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