A small startup of approx 10 - 20 employees is looking into using Open Source / Free technology to save money on Operating System license fees, etc.

Assuming an Admin is competent enough to 'keep up' (and possibly gets help from "paid support", but not required), and assuming that possible incompatibilities with other people using Microsoft Office documents don't matter:

Is Ubuntu a suitable distribution for an Admin (or two) to maintain, and keep control of, or should they take a serious look at Red Hat / SuSE / other?


I helped administer a similar system in a company that size, and found it a suitable choice. We did not have a need for significant calendaring support and but network currently has remote home directories and LDAP. I think that a number of the other solutions would be good though, and it's prudent to keep around 1 or 2 Windows machines just in case.

  • Are there missing "calendaring" features that aren't available in Ubuntu or related "free" software? I'm not sure I understood how that effected your choice. – anonymous coward Jun 11 '09 at 16:27
  • I meant that we weren't doing any fancy calendar sharing, etc, so I can't comment on how well/poorly this work. We primarily used it for email and address books. – Dana the Sane Jun 11 '09 at 20:19

Either your existing Admins should choose the technology based on what they are already comfortable working with, or you should hire admins for a specific technology.

  • That's a given, but the pluses and minuses might make it worth while for the admins to become comfortable in one of those environments. Also, I've found that outside support doesn't necessarily cut it if you're not paying enough for the firm to get a good understanding of your company's needs. – Dana the Sane Jun 8 '09 at 21:03

Indeed. In fact, in my experience, the admins will get less work keeping the systems healthy. Which results in more Tetris time, and no admins will think that's a Bad Thing. :-)


  • No virus problems (to speak of), no expenses on antivirus software.
  • In my experience, way more stable, which results in less downtime and less wasted work hours due to computers that doesn't work.
  • No software licensing to MS.
  • Works on current or older hardware, no need to upgrade to satisfy Vista.
  • Compatible with all(?) MS Office documents.
  • No vendor lock-in, you own your precious data.

Some people are skeptical in the beginning of learning a new system, but in most cases they get used to it pretty fast. I've installed Ubuntu at workplaces and many of my friends with good results. One of them is in the sixties and very satisfied with the system.

The biggest obstacle I can think of, is if there's some special MS Windows software, but in many cases it's possible to run it with the WINE windows emulator.

  • Be careful with saying "Compatible with all MS Office Documents." It is somewhat rare, but certain types of office docs will choke OO.org. And you will always have the possibility of strange formatting popping up. – Joshua Nurczyk Jun 8 '09 at 21:27
  • Yes, that's why I included the "(?)". :) OpenOffice.org might choke in some rare cases, but I myself have never experienced any problems, except some minor formatting variations. And if OO can't read it, there's lots of other alternatives to try to convert the document — Abiword, Antiword, Gnumeric, etc. – sunny256 Jun 8 '09 at 21:33

If you're talking about admins with some other Linux experience, I wouldn't consider the learning curve for Ubuntu to be that steep.

I think the biggest issue they'd have would be the user support - answering questions from end users who aren't (I'm assuming) that familiar with Ubuntu.


There's nothing that you can't do w/ Ubuntu that you can do w/ any other Linux distro. It has an advantage in looking pretty nice, too.

This certainly all seems feasible to me (and actually sounds like fun and a nice break from the monotony of the nearly Windows-only world I work in... >smile<).

There are number of open source "groupware" applications (Zimbra comes to mind, initially) that could fill some of the PIM void in OpenOffice, as well.

I'd consider employing a contractor / consultant early on to help in defining the initial requirements and getting the ball rolling. Once you've got network-wide authentication, email, file sharing / storage, backups, shared printing, and any line-of-business applications planned out and rolling, you should be able to make adding / replacing PCs into a procedure that you can reproduce w/o expensive contractor labor. Getting an expert on-board for the initial deployment might save some time.


Certainly. As long as you're just getting started there is no reason not to go with linux for your desktops. Unbuntu is a fine and stable distribution.

Your admin/support to user ratio is usually determined by the sort of users involved. Word processing users frequently fewer support people than do programmers, or engineers or technical users. There will undeniably be some ramp up time if your users have only ever used Windows based machines but I can't see any reason why it wouldn't be a fine solution.

I agree with Dana the Sane about having a Windows box handy somewhere, just in case somebody brings in something you can't get to work on linux quickly.

  • It might make sense to purchase a couple of boxes with OEM Windows xxx Professional licenses and sticking the Windows install into a VM on the Linux install. You'd be entitled to use Windows on the box, but wouldn't necessarily have to "support it". Fire up the VM, use it for whatever you need, then shut down the VM and revert it back to the "clean" snapshot you started from. – Evan Anderson Jun 8 '09 at 21:36

If your admin is familiar or even passionate about existing version of linux, then you should stick with that, unless you have a good reason to go with Ubuntu.

If you are starting off from a blank slate, ubuntu or debian would be a good choice.

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