This one is kind of a part two of "What is preventing you from deploying desktop Linux in your environment?".

One of the comments was about small business and the receptions being the only onsite person and how Windows will be better for them.

So I'd like to see how many people have worked or done a Linux office, server and workstations in a small business that WAS NOT computer focused. So this would be a small law firm, accounting, maybe social services (they have no money right so it would be perfect for them). Small being likely less then 30, as high as 50 maybe.

Did it work? Was it worth it?

I wanted to include my background, I do small business tech susport to those types of customers. One of which is social services. I'll do my details about it after

Edit: I asked this because of the constant back and forth between Linux and Windows. I don't think Linux is a bad operating system, but I don't think it is suitable for "most" desktops, there are always the exceptions.

It's interesting to see here how many small businesses tried it and the issues they had. Most with the users or some application that just didn't work and a big part of that being the TCO.

For me, I try to train any customer to do any of their own level 1 help desk. Why are they calling me to reset a password, create a user, security group, file share, or heck in somecases in installing new printers. By enabling the customers to do this, I get less calls about it and the calls I do get are "real" issues.

On one network I have the computers are all locked down, no extra software that isn't needed is installed, over 100 users share about 30 computers and we never have issues with Windows be unstable. One guy wanted Winamp installed, that was denied because the computers include Mediaplayer (preferences aside it's about what you need). Another user wanted the Flash plugin, this was denied as well since there was no business need. About 2 years later an educational website that needed Flash for the courses was needed, so now Flash got installed, via a GPO push out in about an hour. It took me longer to find the network package and register on Adobe than it did to setup the GPO. A user could be on any computer and are not savy enough to find a file share on the server. So with GPO the My Documents folder is mapped to their user share and now even if they just hit save it ends up on the server.

On the other side, the servers, I am not a Linux admin, so if a customer wants to use Linux for servers I'll bow out since I cannot support them properly. So that brings up a good point, it's way easier to find Windows support if the regular guys isn't around.

I'd love to role out Linux and save the license costs, but the flexibility of a Windows server with a Windows desktop just cannot be matched. Especially when you add in a lot of customization drawing on some Windows functions that may work in Linux, but will be difficult to do.

  • Could someone please add "subjective" tag to this question? Commented Jun 8, 2009 at 17:29
  • ask and you shall receive :)
    – Chopper3
    Commented Jun 8, 2009 at 17:57
  • I don't have time this second but I'll add my own experiences tonight Commented Jun 8, 2009 at 23:45
  • If you're not a Linux admin, it's almost certainly not the best solution for you - you'd have to climb the learning curve all over again.
    – pjc50
    Commented Jul 17, 2009 at 16:43

9 Answers 9


I have set up a business that ran purely on Open Source. SuSe desktop, Mitel SME for fileserver / eMail.

It all ran beautifully until...

  1. People wanted to exchange files with the outside world (Open Office vs Microsoft Office)
  2. They wanted Salesforce integration - MS Office only
  3. They wanted screenpop / telephony CTI
  4. They wanted some industry specific applications (Windows only)

There was also some fairly major headaches getting single sign-on working with NIS/Kerberos and all in all, I think we spent more time in support than we saved on licenses from MS

From a purely non-tech point of view, the differences between Open Office files and Microsoft files caused a significant headache. I know that OO saves as MS Office files, but it just did not work in the real world.

To take eMail as an example - People also get comfortable with the Outlook instantaneous update you see with exchange - not so happy with a 5 minute poll on a local IMAP / POP server.

  • sad.............
    – Javier
    Commented Jun 8, 2009 at 18:00
  • 2
    >People wanted to exchange files with the outside world (Open Office vs Microsoft Office) Uhh.. that's not really true, OpenOffice knows a lot of Microsoft formats. I've been successfully using it during the last 3 years. Commented Jun 9, 2009 at 1:16
  • 2
    I think what is missing from this answer is a time frame. I am in the middle of a Postfix/Dovecot/Thunderbird -> Exchange/Outlook migration, and I can say that Exchange/Outlook isn't always "quick". As for OpenOffice vis-a-vis MS Office, it depends. Early versions didn't translate nearly as well as the 2.x/3.x series. So yeah, just when did this transition take place? Commented Jun 9, 2009 at 1:45
  • Alexey, what was the size of the Open Office deployment? I've had great success with it myself, but when getting into some of the advanced functions, mail merge, OLE, etc, I'm sure there would be issues. Add in an office of 30 people and it might be more frequent to have issues. Commented Jun 9, 2009 at 13:06
  • 2
    OOo v MSO - hardly a problem today; salesforce - get yourself VTiger; Exchange - Outlook is not snappy, you just don't see the delays until you compare it with something else - eg my phone gets email notifications a good minute or 2 before Outlook on the same exchange server.
    – gbjbaanb
    Commented Feb 13, 2010 at 15:18

I am in a similar situation as you. I was hired as the IT manager for a small non-profit association of 7 employees. In the past, the association used Windows SBS for all of its tasks.

A lot of the big Linux enthusiasts may disagree with me, but I strongly believe that Windows is the best option for the Front End. Your receptionist will likely know the user interface, be familiar with Office and can start right in (including if you have to hire a new one). Like you had said, any industry specific applications will run on it. And it is not that expensive to purchase with a new PC, if you consider how much it is used in daily office work.

That being said, on the backend, I recommend going open source all the way. The plus side is that the licensing can all be free. However, you are going to pay more in the way of people who know how to set up and run the systems.

Here, we have Windows + Office on the frontend. On the backend we still use Exchange for email and calendaring. But then, our website and e-mail filtering is all done on a Linux machine. Honestly, for our next version we will probably move to a hosted exchange solution. The big up front costs for the server and software doesn't make sense for a small organization.

Any other kind of back end file systems / storage or databases can all be Linux based. As long as the non-techies do not have to access it, and a knowledgeable IT person can administer it, it makes sense to have Linux on the backend.

  • 3
    I have often heard this sentiment - "Windows in the front, Linux in the back" - and there is a nugget of truth in this. +1 for passing this little (hidden?) gem along. Yeah, you will pay a bit more for your admins, but a good team of linux admins can do wonderful work, /if you let them/. Commented Jun 9, 2009 at 1:54
  • You can get Microsoft licenses for a fraction of the cost if you are a registered charity. Office Professional for about $110, needs to be done though their volume license program. Commented Jun 9, 2009 at 13:08

It all boils down to software. Will this small business have or use a software package or website that requires the use of Windows? If so, don't bother looking at Linux. You will be trying to shove a square peg in a round hole with no real benefit to the business. The computer is simply a tool for the business. They should not use a tool that interferes or impedes their business.

  • 1
    Yes, it boils down to software that has to be used. I suggest reading the migration stories of French and German public administration. Those are multi step, many year processes, few application had to be rewritten/ported or just created from scratch. The question is: Is independence from Microsoft worth it? Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 15:38

We have rolled out such a scenario. Typical rollout was:

  1. Ubuntu Linux
  2. OpenOffice.org
  3. Skype
  4. JungleDisk (offsite backups, etc)
  5. Set up printers, networking, etc.

In some rare cases there will be some custom software that only runs on Windows and doesn't work properly under WINE, etc. In those cases we set up a single PC with Windows XP and allowed people to use that PC for the specific task. Depending on the software and task, this doesn't always work... but you'd be surprised what you CAN'T do if you set your mind on solutions rather than objections.

Hope this helps.

PS - Its also worth mentioning the savings involved and less down-time associated with running Ubuntu/Linux vs Windows. The employees stopped installing garbage on their PCs, the PCs didn't get infected with viruses, etc. The long terms savings on stuff like this was just a bonus.

  • 1
    I'm curious as to why when using windows you did not setup the users as limited users? Commented Jun 8, 2009 at 23:42
  • 3
    In some cases, we have. In other cases we've run into issues with 3rd party software and permissions. Basically... windows programs that only run as administrator. Not every piece of software out there is equal. LOL
    – KPWINC
    Commented Jun 9, 2009 at 16:09

I work at a small engineering firm that has embraced Linux for all backoffice duties. However the desktops are primarily Windows.

We use Zimbra (commercial edition with ActiveSync) for email/calendaring, File/Print Server runs Samba, Document Management is running Knowledge Tree, webserver is running Linux, and when I started they were using a ClarkConnect box for the internet gateway and VPN. The VPN and gateway has since been replaced with a hardware solution.

I think running Linux on a bunch of desktops is a more difficult and risky thing to do. Even if you don't have any software the requires Windows today doesn't mean that won't change in two months. The cost of changing over will likely out weigh any cost savings now.


Realize that the cost of the software is a small part of the overall cost of IT infrastructure. Support is huge and AD / Group Policy make Windows an incredible platform for a business of any size. That being said, I have played with Linux in a small biz setting and found it to be a reliable platform for users who didn't need anything beyond Internet access, webmail and OpenOffice.


I run IT for a school that uses all OpenSUSE Linux except for one laptop that administration keeps for one person who does some financial work and does not interact with the school or any of its systems.

We have had great luck in the pure Linux environment. Linux desktops and servers. All the same OS so easier to manage. Using Linux keeps our costs down both hardware and software even though Windows would be pretty cheap. Linux is still less expensive to acquire and manage. The lower cost of security being a big factor.

For a lot of businesses I think that Linux servers will make sense long before Linux desktops will even though they may be great. A lot of shops completely depend upon Windows-only applications.


If you're asking because you want the power/lack-of-licence-cost of *nix but ideally have something that's easy to maintain then consider OS X Server. It's very easy to use, offers lots of different 'services', has great Windows, Mac and Linux integration and has not per-seat costs.

It may not fit for you but at least you'll have considered it.


We did an Linux thin client rollout to a call center with 20 employees. It worked well, but the employees complained endlessly when things didn't work the way they were used to. We had problems with Flash plugins and printing, and with Firefox consuming so much memory that the window manager would kill the program when the client ran out of RAM.

If you're working at a business with a decent install base, Microsoft is more than willing to give you cheap desktop and office licenses in most cases. Contact a human sales representative for details. Unfortunately, if your users will work faster with Windows, there's no GOOD reason to force them to Linux if the licensing costs for Windows are minimal.

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