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Goodbye, Win XP - Hello, Linux?

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Dec 11, 2013 5:00 AM PT

Microsoft will stop security support for Windows XP this coming April, meaning that more than a few remaining users of the long-standing OS need to come up with an alternative plan.

Goodbye, Win XP - Hello, Linux?

Almost a third of desktop computers still run Windows XP, according to Net Applications. Perhaps even more concerning, more than 15 percent of midsize and large enterprises will still have Windows XP running on at least 10 percent of their PCs after Microsoft support ends, Gartner estimates.

To avoid critical security and usage issues, current XP users need to undergo some massive systems migrations.

'You Might as Well Switch to Linux'

Transitions like that are never quick or easy, even if it's simply to a newer version of the same operating system. Given how much has changed along the way to Microsoft's Windows 8, that's more certain than ever to be true this time around.

At the same time, there is an increasingly compelling alternative some say may offer a smoother and easier transition.

It's robust, it's secure, it's compatible with older hardware, and it's free. Its name, of course, is Linux.

"Since you are going to have to learn a new way of doing things with Windows 8.1, you might as well switch to Linux, which is known for being safe and secure," Bill Reynolds, founder and owner of PCLinuxOS, told LinuxInsider.

'A Viable Alternative'

Indeed, in migrating from XP, there has been a large push for Windows 7 and Windows 8, but also Linux desktop solutions, Deepak Kumar, the founder and CTO of Adaptiva, told LinuxInsider. Linux is a viable alternative to Windows, and many corporations may find it more stable as it is a long-standing platform. [*Correction - Jan. 14, 2014]

Kumar sees potential for increased adoption of Linux now that XP is retiring, but it will happen slowly because of how entrenched the Windows platform is in the business world, he said. Moving to Linux would require a different set of skills in employees, system administrators and IT professionals, Kumar pointed out.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks on the way to unfettered adoption of Linux by Windows XP users is the upgrade path that encourages customers to stay with the Windows platform. It is already in place -- good or bad -- while the Linux OS is not always marketed as an option.

"If Windows 7 was not still going to be available, then the Linux OS might be able to gain a foothold," Mark Lewandowski, founder of Riverfront Technology Consulting, told LinuxInsider.

"I think it will be hard for Linux to break into the workplace," Lewandowski added. "One issue is the talent pool; another is that support for Linux across the high end in enterprise is lacking."

Familiarity Trumps Usability

Linux may have lost at least some of its appeal for migrating Windows users when Microsoft agreed to user interface concessions in its latest Windows 8.1 release, according to Norman Rosenthal, principal and owner of Sterling Rose Consulting.

Rosenthal now sees a loss of interest in migrating to Linux among SMBs as a result.

"As long as users can continue to click on a button to put a semblance of the Windows 7 Start menu, users will be hesitant to move to another platform that will require them to learn a new interface," he told LinuxInsider.

The current situation mirrors what happened in the 1990s when Apple was trying to break into the business arena with the Macintosh platform, Rosenthal pointed out. Back then, specifically, people were reluctant to switch to Macs even though the platform had its own graphical interface.

Regarding Linux, "the hesitancy involves skepticism for the whole arena of what is going on with technology today," said Rosenthal. "Windows remains their comfort level in that regard."

Not Just One OS

The two biggest impediments that the Linux OS faces as an alternative to Windows XP are the supply chain and a lack of marketing, Mason Uyeda, senior director of technical marketing for end-user computing at VMware, told LinuxInsider.

"How do you get all support to a common platform?" Uyeda asked. "Linux has too many distros. So the Linux supply chain issue needs to be solved first."

Users need assurance that everything that needs to be connected will be, for example. Right now, however, there are no major OEMs supplying Linux drivers. Linux also has some issues on the virtual machine level, which is a critical concern for extended enterprise use, noted Uyeda.

No Easy Solution

Users could eventually overcome their misconceptions about Linux's user interface, but an overriding issue remains the reality that businesses still thrive on Windows programs, according to Uyeda.

"You can not just plug in a Linux desktop replacement," he asserted. "Even if you solve the Linux desktop problems by figuring out the distro differences, you still have the obstacle of applications to use."

Most businesses still on XP have now worked up plans to move to Windows 7 or Windows 8, and both Windows options are surprisingly tolerant of older hardware and will likely work on most machines, according to Al Hilwa, program director for applications development software at IDC.

"Will there be difficulty to support hardware with more modern Windows releases? I expect the answer is 'yes,' but configuring Linux is not a day at the beach either," Hilwa concluded. "I think there is an after-market for older PCs, and most will end up either running XP unsupported or be converted to run Linux."

*ECT News Network editor's note - Jan. 14, 2014: Our original published version of this story directly quoted Deepak Kumar as saying, "in migrating from XP, there has been a large push for Windows 7 and Windows 8, but also Linux desktop solutions. Linux is a viable alternative to Windows, and many corporations may find it more stable as it is a long-standing platform." In fact, Adaptiva's PR rep, Katie Beason, provided the comment to LinuxInsider in the context of "offering some insights from Deepak Kumar," which were not intended to be direct quotes.

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear.

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