It is a fact that this company will need to run Windows on the workstations to support SolidWorks, QuickBooks, and probably some other applications, and I believe at least one server will need to be Windows to be the QuickBooks server, but I'm not sure on that.

With that in mind, is the cost savings in licenses worth it to introduce Linux servers, workstations, and router/firewalls (routers/firewalls will probably be linux either way really) into the environment? I'll be the person managing it all, and I do have a pretty good understanding of Linux, but I'm far from an expert, especially when it comes to a real world network in a business environment.

To start off with a few servers could be Linux probably, but the number will grow rapidly (and if it doesn't then this question doesn't really matter).

What are your thoughts?

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  • you could run the Quickbooks server in KVM or VirtualBox or similar on the same hardware that's running linux for the other services. Does QB's server require Windows Server or can it run on XP? – cas Aug 4 '09 at 21:48
  • Our company is "Linux only plus Quickbooks". Our physical Server is setup as a KVM Host machine running many virtual machines. Each server service we have runs in its own VM on the host server. ie. File Sharing, IMAP, DNS, caldav, etc. (ctd) – Nick Jan 29 '12 at 13:57
  • To deal with QB, we created three VMs with Windows XP, each one has a copy of QB. One is the "server", and the other two are VMs for employee use. The VMs are frozen with Deep Freeze to keep them reliable. An employee that needs to use QB will use RDP to connect to a Windows VM on the server. This also allows the two copies of QB to be shared among any of the Linux workstations. – Nick Jan 29 '12 at 13:57

It's worth it if you can make the business-case make sense. Licensing expense is only part of the equation. Also think about:

  • Administrative expense - Do you have a competent Linux admin? Do you know how much more / less a competent Linux admin costs in your market if you have to go get another? Will you have an administrative expense associated with overhead in interoperability between the Windows infrastructure you say you'll "need" versus the Linux infrastructure you "want" (how do you feel about not having Active Directory, Group Policy, etc)?

  • User productivity - Will users have the apps they "want"? Can they work as efficiently on the Linux-based apps they'll have access to? What is the rough impact to user efficiency?

  • Performance - Will your applications work as well on Linux? Will they work better? Quantify that in time savings for users and / or administrators.

  • Hardware expense - Are you going to find specialized hardware (plotters, scanners, etc) that will have drivers for Linux or will you have to pay more for "upscale" hardware that does? (That used to be true with server hardware, too, but it has become a lot less true in the last 5 - 7 years...)

It could definitely turn out to be more cost-effective to use Linux, but it might not. It might be more pleasurable to administer, or it might not. There's no one single answer. You need to get the "big picture" of the business out on paper and run the numbers. Even if you're not right, at least you've given it thought and developed an answer using some methodology.

  • +1 but I'd also add "interoperability" to the list; bottom line is that Windows clients are just going to work better with Windows servers, and sticking to a homogeneous environment (be it Linux or Windows) is going to be cleaner overall. – Maximus Minimus Aug 4 '09 at 20:28
  • @mh that's pretty much how i'm feeling about it... i just really like the idea of using Linux for the benefit of free licenses and the whole philosophical attraction to OSS – Max Schmeling Aug 4 '09 at 20:45
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    One thing to add to in terms of license 'cost.' Not only do the licenses cost money, but the time and effort it takes to manage them even for a small business can cost a lot of money. – Kyle Brandt Aug 4 '09 at 21:40
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    Evan's answer is great - one thing i'd like to add to that is that it doesn't need to be all or nothing. use Linux where it makes sense to do so, and use Windows where it makes sense to use that. – cas Aug 4 '09 at 21:50
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    the second thing i'd like to add to that is that the administrative overhead and expense of just managing licenses (not tech/sysadmin work, just paperwork and keeping track of licenses) can be huge. negating that administrative burden is actually one of the big reasons i prefer free software - no licensing traumas, just install and use it as many times as you need. – cas Aug 4 '09 at 21:53

No. For a small business, you are likely getting your Windows licenses with the hardware you're buying. It's basically a no cost venture other than maybe some CALs. While you might be familiar with Linux, you're likely to run into compatibility issues with the software you've already mentioned requires Windows which alone make it a bad idea. I would venture to guess if you added up potential lost productivity fighting those issues vs the cost of the Windows licenses you'd actually have to buy apart from hardware, you'd find the license cost is far less than the cost of your, and others time.

Of course Windows has it's issues, but my experience has been that it is quite stable in a standard configuration and Linux will only introduce problems, especially on the desktop. Servers are an entirely different question.

  • 1
    Whilst what you say about licences is true, it is now possible with most OEM's to get a average of £40 back for home/basic and ~£50 for pro/premium if you state you do not agree to the Microsoft EULA..... I do agree with your points and I prefer Windows as a client OS, but just wanted to state that the fact they have paid for it by getting the hardware should not be a deciding factor. – William Hilsum Aug 4 '09 at 21:34
  • Also, Microsoft has some programs (like the Partner Program Action Pack and the Open License program for small businesses) that help you get the CALs and other licenses you need. – Karl Katzke Aug 4 '09 at 21:54
  • Well, sure the licenses you get at first are free, the free 'samples.' But then you are hooked, and as your business grows, you have to buy more and more. Then you find yourself buying licenses instead of going out with your friends :-) – Kyle Brandt Aug 5 '09 at 18:30
  • I suppose. But here, on a 3 year hardware upgrade cycle, we're going to get the Windows 7 upgrade for "free" as well. The servers are different because we're virtualized, but even then, we're buying 1 license of Datacenter for each ESX host and getting unlimited Windows servers as a result. – Kevin Kuphal Aug 5 '09 at 19:03
  • It's not hard to build your own computers from parts, which eliminates the license problem. If you can't build a computer from parts then you probably don't want to mess with unix desktops for your business. Find 2 or 3 builds which work and then mass produce them. – steampowered Jan 29 '12 at 11:22

You'd probably become an expert pretty quickly when faced with the day-to-day problems.

Besides Evan's excellent answer above, I'd like to add in that there are other interoperability solutions that aren't covered.

  • Novell Open Enterprise Server (OES) is Suse-Linux based, and works well with Novell clients and the Groupwise Email Server, which has cross-platform clients for linux, mac, and windows desktops.
  • Don't forget about virtualization. You could probably save some money for the business by buying a larger server with a better support program (i.e Dell 4 hour) and running Linux with the Xen virtualization suite. That way you can run Linux, OES, or Windows servers as guests in order to really figure out what will work best for the business. You can start out on Linux, and fall back to Windows if you really need to.

While we're at it, let's look at the basic functions you're going to have to handle and their alternatives.

  • Configuration and Account Management: Your options are MS AD, YP/NIS/NIS+, Novell eDirectory.
  • Email: Exchange (which is a pain in the arse to manage), Zimbra, Postfix/Dovecot & web management, hosted (i.e. Google). Groupwise has a bad rap, but it's fairly nice on OES.
  • File Sharing: Pretty basic, but Samba is fairly mature on Linux. Novell works very well cross-platform. Windows, well, it's Microsoft...
  • Quickbooks: IIRC, about 2007 or so, Intuit was offering a Quickbooks Linux Database Server Manager.

If possible, I'd outsource as much as you can. Email is a great target -- it's usually cost-effective to outsource it because the authentication, security, spam, and network transport issues are non-trivial (i.e. reverse DNS &c) and a pain in the butt to keep running.


It all depends on your needs. I run a mix of Windows and Linux, with each chosen to suit a combination of what it has to do and what hardware available for it (it's a small company). As nearly all the workstations run Windows it makes sense to use Windows on the main servers. i.e. Those servers users interact with directly. For what I consider to be "sundry services", things such as firewall, system monitoring, spam filtering, network faxing, etc I use Linux. This enables me to implement readily available and well proven solutions at very close to zero cost, without creating interoperability issues. This last point, previously raised by others, needs to be given careful consideration. That, more than anything else, is where the true long term costs of a mixed environment are likely to be.


The cost of the licenses is only a small fraction of the overall cost, and with Windows on the desktop you're just going to get a much better environment by putting Windows on the servers.

As I mentioned in my comment on Evan's answer, interoperability is the key thing here. There's a lot more to client/server communication than raw IP traffic. If nothing else Windows servers will give you Active Directory and Group Policies. Add in gains from centralised management, single sign on, and being on a client/server platform that's designed to work together, and it looks like being a no-brainer.

  • apart from having a Microsoft logo on it, there's not much that Active Directory on a Windows server can do that can't be done with openldap and samba....and almost nothing that's actually needed by a small business rather than a huge corporation. – cas Aug 4 '09 at 21:35

Virtualisation. Do not forget virtualisation. You can run multiple servers on one machine. It will also help in configuration and set-up. If you are unfamiliar with how one server works, you can create a virtual server and test it to your heart's content before setting up the production one in another virtual server. Also, as someone else has mentioned, you can run Windows virtualised too.

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