October 27, 2008, 1:01 PM — If you're a fan of desktop Linux distributions, as I am, you're probably waiting for Ubuntu 8.10 to be released on Thursday, October 30th. This blog entry is being written on a Ubuntu desktop, as is 90 percent of all the work I have done for the last two years. I advocated Linux and Open Source Software as an alternative to Windows and Macintosh systems for people wanting to save money on personal computers, so I switched myself.
Being that money dominates headlines today, let's ignore all the security advantage of a modern Linux distribution and look only at dollars and cents. Can using an Intel-based personal computer running some type of Linux save you money over the same computer running Windows?
The quick answer is yes, because Linux distributions are free or cheap, and Windows costs range from reasonable to outrageous (if you look at the Vista price chart). However, most new personal computers ship with Windows, so the price of Windows is included in the cost of the hardware. Hidden though it is, basic Windows operating systems only add $40-$60 to the price of the PC, depending on the vendor.
Linux fanatics quickly point out that a modern Linux OS includes OpenOffice, a free productivity suite that can do at least 95 percent of all work done by Microsoft Office. True, but Windows users can easily download OpenOffice for Windows, and that version is just as free as the Linux version. The same is true for the Macintosh version, as well.
Thousands of free and Open Source software titles exist for all operating systems. Wikipedia has a good starting place, or you can look through the branded download sites, like Download.com, PCWorld.com, and Tucows.com for thousands of programs you can trust not to have viruses and the like.
Will the Ubuntu operating system save you money? A little bit. Will the world of Open Source Software save you much more money? Yes. If you prefer the ability to easily install any program you or your users want, Windows works great. If you want fewer security hassles and an environment more closed so non-technical users can't mess things up, Linux works great.
Yes, you have many ways to save money today. But the tradeoff is a bit of work, time, and the need to make some decisions. Ubuntu may save you some money, but Open Source Software will save you buckets o'bucks.