Open Source in the Enterprise

Open source software has been around for a while in the enterprise server markets, but not in the desktop markets. In any given business you will most likely find Windows based desktops, with a small minority probably having Mac computers. The problem that I see with this is that when you start to employ thousands of Windows machines, your costs for licensing are insane. But with all the new user-friendly distributions of Linux, such as Ubuntu or OpenSUSE, it seems that it might be time to start evaluating some of these free desktop operating systems for use in the enterprise.

One of the main things that is very important for a desktop is that it be very easy to manage remotely. This means designing policies for desktops so that you can control them and manage them in the way you want. In Windows this is known as Group Policy. It integrates amazingly well into the desktop if you are running an Active Directory domain(on a Windows server of course). The limitations here are that there are no current free solutions to run a compliant Active Directory(2003 based) domain. Samba is the closest thing to this that you can use, but it has only limited support for domains, as it is based on old Windows NT domains. The upcoming Samba4 is supposed to implement a lot of the newer features, but it is no where near close to a stable release. It also seems that the complication of the implementation of a Windows Server 2003 domain server might just be too much to ask for.

This brings me into wanting to deploy Linux-based operating systems onto desktops. Unfortunately I'm not aware of any management products for Linux desktops that replicates the functionality of group policy. I know that OpenSUSE has its own solution, based on some of Novell's work on ZENworks, but ZENworks doesn't seem as feature complete on linux than its counterpart on Windows.

I think that there are many good applications for Linux and that it can be a very powerful, user-friendly desktop OS, but I don't think it's ready for prime time in the enterprise desktop environment.

Can anybody shed some light about Linux on desktops in the enterprise?

Written on May 7, 2007