Making the call between Windows and Linux

The question of whether to use Lindows can only be decided within the broader context of whether to use Windows or Linux on desktop PCs. 'Linux is usable and appropriate in certain cases.

The question is, 'What is my migration cost to get there?' ' said Mike Silver, a vice president at Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn.

Buying computers preloaded with Linux rather than Microsoft Windows can save about $80 per user on hardware acquisition costs. Organizations also can save $74 per user per year using Sun Microsystems' StarOffice instead of Microsoft Office, although they can achieve that same savings by running StarOffice on Windows.

Applications pose a more complicated scenario. If an agency is using largely Microsoft applications, it will either have to migrate those apps to Linux, find a comparable Linux app as a substitute, or Web-enable existing applications.

Any of these can be an expensive proposition in terms of acquiring new software, migrating, integrating, and training users and support staff.

The first step is to make a list of current apps and see if they can run on Linux, or if there are workable Linux alternatives. 'Plenty of applications run on Linux. The question is, 'Do they have the one I need with the functions I need?' ' Silver said.

If you use only a few applications, Linux is a viable option. But if an agency depends on a specialized application such as a geographic information system or data mining software, it is limited to the operating systems that code runs on.

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