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Alternative OS and productivity suites gain steam

Admins considering open source alternatives to Microsoft desktops should know what an alternative OS, office suite or graphics editor can do.

Some IT shops tired of dealing with constant patching, complex Microsoft licensing and keeping up with operating system versions are turning to alternative OS and productivity suite options. Open source desktops are still a niche in the enterprise, but administrators may want to check them out, since they may have to support them in heterogeneous environments.

Consider an alternative OS

Now that official Microsoft support for Windows XP has ended -- and Windows 7 isn't that far behind -- one columnist makes a case for moving to an open source OS. Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 may not disappear anytime soon, but admins will have to weigh Microsoft's popularity against the community of support for free OSes.

One low-stress method for trying an alternative OS is to boot Linux from a USB memory stick. There are also a number of ways to run Linux on Windows 7 systems.

Sure, troubleshooting Mac or other desktop OSes can be intimidating to admins accustomed to Windows, but Android PCs offer affordability and a mobile focus. It's best to know your organization's device inventory and use requirements before moving between any operating systems.

Productivity

Microsoft has maintained its dominance in the productivity suite market with Office 2013 and Office 365, so competition is paying off. Other app suites, such as LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice, have steadily gained capabilities.

Like Office, Internet Explorer is everywhere, but other Web browsers have much to offer. And if you're looking to take advantage of the wealth of open source programs out there, package managers can make Linux app installation easy.

Multimedia

In addition to the OS and office productivity suites, graphics-editing programs are usually costly and aimed at power users. The GNU Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP, is a full-featured alternative to Adobe Photoshop.

The graphics editor is fast, and like many open source products, GIMP benefits from a lot of user support.

Another example of the utility of open source is the Nightingale media player. Since the Songbird music player was discontinued last year, Windows 8 users can turn to Nightingale, which works across platforms.

Even in IT shops where Microsoft continues to dominate the desktop, admins should be aware of the possibilities that an alternative OS, productivity suite or another open source program can save on support costs.

Next Steps

Consider these five mobile alternatives to Microsoft Office

Look at alternate routes on the migration path from Windows XP to Windows 8.1

Build bootable Windows flash drives with the open source Rufus USB tool

This was last published in December 2014

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Have you replaced Windows with an alternative OS? Are you using any open source software alongside Microsoft products?
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Google's Web Toolkit and Closure Tools have seen use around our office, though I wouldn't go as far as saying they see heavy use. We're also keeping an eye on WebM's video compression for future use. 
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I have replaced windows with Ubuntu 12.04 and did not have any issues since that time.

For working with Desktop Publishing software I use InkScape which is very much like page maker and Corel Draw!
As for office alternative I use LibreOffice and for PhotoShop I use GIMP.
All-in-all I have replaced the buggy Windows with something that is more trouble free
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I think one of the reasons, aside from cost savings, is that the UI designs of some alternative operating systems are more likely to be readily accepted by the end users. Many Linux distributions, like Ubuntu, offer a user interface that more closely resembles Apple’s look and feel, and others offer something more like Windows, making them more familiar to the users.
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