Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Why Most Businesses Still Use Windows.
On paper, Linux seems to be the ideal workstation operating system for the corporate environment: highly configurable, free, secure, easily deployed in a network, extremely stable.... So why are medium and small businesses, the backbone of the US economy, not switching over to Linux?
I have my own theories, working as an IT manager for a small company myself.
The points I make below are just my opinion, but I do not think I am very far off from what small and medium business owners are thinking.
1. Windows has been the standard for a while.
The standard in business is still Windows. Staying with the proven standard is safe. Risks can break companies and as many owners of small companies will tell you, "if it isn't broken, don't touch it"
2. Microsoft Office.
Microsoft Office is the standard for office suites. Unfortunately, Microsoft does not make Office for Linux. Open Office et al. are good for the basics, but not good enough. Yes, you can virtualize, and yes, you can run thin clients, but it is not the same as running natively (and you still need at least 1 copy of Windows running on the network). Plus virtualization or thin clients require an additional layer of software IT has to deal with.
3. Apparent steep learning curve to switch to Linux.
As easy as Linux windows environments have become, they are still different that Windows. Switching to a different environment, however user friendly the new environment may be, still involves a learning curve. Learning curves involve less productivity for a period of time. You do the math.
4. Starting from scratch effect.
It is very difficult for companies, especially smaller companies with fewer resources, to start from scratch. Starting from scratch implies time spent offline, and offline time is never good. Yes, the IT department can set up workstation and server virtualization for testing, and deploy workstations via clone images, and reduce offline time to a minimum, but try convincing the owner you are sure that will be no glitches during the switch. Again, their "If it isn't broken..." mantra applies.
5. Commercial software.
Small companies depend on commercial software. Chances are, the commercial software they use, call it Adobe Acrobat, or AutoCAD for example, will not run on Linux, even using wine to port. IBM, an adamant defender of Linux did not port Lotus Notes onto Linux until last year.
On the other side of the spectrum you have companies that have customized software that has not been/cannot be ported to Linux. Case example the company I work for. We use a customized version of Think3's ThinkDesign CAD program. We've invested a lot of money on this program, but we cannot port the program to Linux. In this case, it is impossible for us to deploy Linux, at least for the department that utilizes ThinkDesign.
6. External (liable) support for software.
Again the software issue. Yes, I know there are very good Linux native counterparts to Windows only software. however, a lot of them do not come with paid 24/7 support. Payed support is like a safety net for companies. If the IT department cannot fix a problem, they can always call the software manufacturer, who the company pays to FIX (written in capital letters) the software. The software manufacturer is then liable if it cannot fix the issue and causes data loss/down time to the company. Although very helpful, Forums are not equal to payed support.
7. Ignorance. This one is self explanatory. Linux is still unknown, uncharted territory if you may, and businesses tend to be very conservative.
8. Chain reaction.
"Our customers use Windows, so we HAVE to use Windows". I like to call this a the "chain reaction effect". Information might be "lost in translation" of we do not run the same systems that our customers or our suppliers use. If our big customers switched to Linux, we'd switch to Linux.
Again the standards problem.
9. Higher cost of IT
Windows networks administrators are very easy to come by. Kick a rock and you'll find 500 underneath. Linux network administrators are harder to come by, and more expensive. Owners do not like more expensive.
Expensive commercial antivirus give business owners a sense of security. Owners still want the perceived safety of an expensive antivirus, even on Linux.... so owners reason that "why go through the effort of switching to Linux if Windows with an antivirus is equally safe?".
Like I said at the beginning, these are just some theories, from personal experience, and thus they need not apply to all businesses.
Again from personal experience, I am also going to guess that because employees are used to working with Windows at work, and get all of their training on Windows, they are more comfortable using Windows at home, and will have a preference towards Windows over other operating systems.