• United States

Microsoft vs. the world

Nov 17, 20054 mins

* Conflicts with Massachusetts and South Korea in the news

I planned to spend more time playing with the recent Linux distribution from Xandros, Version 3 of Business Edition, but Microsoft caused so many headlines recently I moved this column up. Since the state of Massachusetts and the country of South Korea are pushing Microsoft away, or at least demanding open source document formats, should you dump Microsoft? No, but you should at least take some time and consider alternatives such as Linux and OpenOffice 2.0, especially if saving money matters to you.

Let’s focus on Linux first, and let me play with OpenOffice 2.0 a little more. (Although I’m using that word processor on a computer running Xandros to write this column. Learning and switchover time? Minimal, and I doubt that’s because I’m some kind of genius.)

When you buy a new computer, the “Microsoft tax” of operating system and application software comprises the largest single cost to the vendor (and they get a huge volume discount). If you buy a computer from your local retailer, or build your own, the Microsoft tax will be between $250 and $700, depending on which version of Windows and Office you buy.

Xandros Desktop OS Version 3 Business Edition costs $129 retail, about the same as Windows XP Home. The difference? Xandros includes all the application software most business users ever need. If you buy the Business Edition 5-Pack, the retail price is $495, or less than $100 per computer.

The extra $150 to $500 for an office suite? Not needed, because every Linux operating system includes an office suite free. Free, as in no money, and as in installed with the operating system. That alone tips the scales toward Linux for the budget-minded.

Each Linux operating system offers something different. Xandros Business Edition costs more than its other versions (from Desktop OS Standard Edition for $49.95 to SurfSide Linux at $99.95, which includes a Plantronics headset for the included Skype Internet Telephony software).

The Business Edition includes networking support for Windows 2000/2003 Active Directory Servers; NT Domain Controller support; CrossOver Office to run Microsoft Office and some other Windows programs inside the Linux OS; and StarOffice, the Sun version of OpenOffice. This feature combination guarantees a corporate Windows user will feel comfortable, be able to run common applications, and will even be able to use the Linux-based Evolution GroupWare Suite with the company’s Windows Exchange Server (in place of Outlook).

Besides these attributes, Xandros earned its reputation as an easy alternative to Windows with easy installation and a familiar look and feel. Although OpenOffice 2.0 came out after this Xandros version, I downloaded and installed the new OpenOffice with no problem. Free.

Want to try Linux but hesitate to write anything to your hard disk? Try Knoppix, which offers a free downloadable CD image that boots any PC and runs Linux from the CD. Many tech support folks carry a Knoppix CD for booting recalcitrant PCs and then use the tools within Knoppix to fix things or recover data files from a disk with a dying Windows operating system.

My friend and open  source consultant John Locke recommends Mandriva to his customers. Originally called Mandrake, the operating system had to change because of trademark issues with the comic book character (no, really, it’s the truth).

Linspire, originally called Lindows until Microsoft lawyers found a friendly judge, focuses on multimedia support for their Linux OS. This makes sense, because they were started by the man who developed (the original, not the version we’re stuck with now).

Microsoft’s getting more heat than ever from users and states and foreign governments. There are more options than ever before in desktop operating systems and applications. Don’t say you weren’t told how to save money.