I got a telling reponse from Canonical when I approached its Public Relations team looking for case studies of businesses that had switched from Windows:
… we find that the businesses using Ubuntu tend to use the server edition right now and so a windows comparison is not relevant. Ubuntu desktop is largely in the consumer space not business.
It hardly comes as a surprise to discover that most businesses use Windows, but I did think there would be a few examples. I’ve been running Ubuntu, mainly on my laptop, and find it perfectly solid and useable. In fact, it is possibly better suited for business than for consumers. The problem with Linux is that you always seem to run into one or two problems that require intricate, non-obvious steps to resolve. Well, they are obvious to Linux geeks, but not to the rest of us. In a business this can be mitigated by standardizing the hardware and providing a channel of support, but home users are more likely to get frustrated. Furthermore, in my experience home users install a greater variety of software. They get CDs from ISPs, or with their new scanner or camera, and expect them to work. They want to play games and enjoy DVDs. All these things can be problematic for home users, but are less relevant and more easily managed for business users.
I don’t mean to minimize the problems facing anyone switching to Linux. In the business world, that includes custom or niche software that is likely to be Windows-only. Every small business I encounter seems to have an Access or VB application that has become business-critical. Another snag is doing without Microsoft Office. Yes, Microsoft Office is over-priced (unless you are a home or academic user), but it is on the whole better to work with than Open Office, and if you are bashing out documents all day that makes a difference (I make an exception for Outlook 2007, which is infuriatingly slow). There is also the thorny problem of document compatibility, recently made worse by the format wars.
Another factor, under-appreciated by the media, is that Windows has a mature and very comprehensive administrative infrastructure for managing any number of desktops. For larger organizations this makes Windows the obvious choice.
Therefore I was not expecting very many examples, but I thought there would be one or two case studies, particularly as Canonical offers a table of prices for desktop support. I doubt many home users are taking this up. Of course Linux is mainly popular on the server, but Ubuntu has a particular desktop focus.
I am hoping that someone will read this blog and say, “this is nonsense, we use Ubuntu in business”. If that is the case, please contact me, especially if you are in the UK, and willing to be quoted. I’d also be interested in hearing from those who tried and failed, or explored the possibility and gave up.