Ubuntu Desktop not used in business

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.

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22 thoughts on “Ubuntu Desktop not used in business”

  1. “This is nonsense, we use Ubuntu in business”.

    I’m running Ubuntu on my two businesses:
    – “Provence”, french restaurant in Hangzhou China [www.provence-hz.com]
    – “GreenPeace Sourcing [GPS] HK”, sourcing company in Hangzhou China [website closed for the moment]

    I made one of my business partner switch is whole company to Ubuntu as well.
    – “SmartlightAsia” Sign making company in Hangzhou China. [www.smartlightasia.com]

    Let’s check in 5 points why we are happy with our Ubuntu.

    1) Applications
    We use Evolution, OpenOffice, The Gimp, Pidgin [MSN and QQ protocols], scanning, printing, ftpeing, etc
    Everythink is working nicely and set up is easy.
    Our staffs is happy with the softwares and we don’t have problems of cross-exchange with our customers.

    2) Languages
    These 3 companies are made of chinese and french folks. We need to have systems running in french for the frenchies, in chinese for the chineses and in english because sometimes internal communication is in english.
    Setting up 3 languages machine, plus Chinese input, as well as dictionnaries and translating tool are made easy with tools like scim, stardict, gtranslate, etc.

    3) Security
    With a lot of staff, surfing a lot the chinese web and not very verse in security, it’s a peace of mind for the IT administrator of these 3 companies [me only as a matter of fact]. No virus, no trojan, no software/bullshit which is going to put the system in jeopardy.

    4) Informations
    It’s actually very easy to find answers to any questions you have about your system, and in many languages!

    5) Legal
    Ok, i live in the country of the fake, I never found a place where to buy a genuine copy of windows XP for instance. [Hangzhou small chinese village of 6 millions unhabitants…]. But it’s nice to feel that we are certainly the only companies around with legal licenses for each softwares of each of our computers.

    Let’s check one point why we are happy with our Windows

    1) Applications
    We sometimes lack of software like AutoCad for opening .dwg files, our suppliers get use to it now and send us files for our system to understand. are always sending nice files for us.

    That’s it, the balance is clearly on the open source. We might be small companies, but we having challenges that a Ubuntu system can face easier that a Windows system.

    Michaël Bannier

  2. This is nonsense. I have 2 customers that use Ubuntu as business desktop OSs. They are small, but still businesses. One has 4 Ubuntu desktops (and 2 windows desktops) and the other has about 8 ubuntu desktops and 1 windows desktop. And of course, there is our business – we have 4 ubuntu desktops, 4-5 ubuntu laptops, one OS X macboo and one Windows desktop PC.

    So there are 3 businesses right there. Oh, and all 3 use Ubuntu server along with many more of our customers using Ubuntu Server with all windows desktop environments.

    The difficulty we have with Ubuntu is management. While it is easier to remotely manage at the OS level, it’s more difficult to troubleshoot user level problems (printing and scanning being the most difficult). My biggest hangup with Ubuntu is that, while it requires much less support effort than windows, the issues are usually more difficult to resolve. This is mostly because the issue is caused by incompatibilities between versions of programs or because the capability just does work – ie buggy. Windows tends to be the Devil we know. So I prefer to support Window for our customers. Ubuntu is fine for us because we know enough to A) fix issues when they come up or B) are seasoned enough to know not to bother – ie: network scanning with certain MFCs that works in such a way that it’s actually useful.

  3. for once I saw something that is truth about linux in a blog. My organization cannot switch to ubuntu or any other linux distro because of the problems you have identified. Someone has to fix them if they want linux to challenge the windows (rather MS) monopoly.

    We once planned (discussed) to shift to redhat at that time i was in a very small but highly technical organization with less than 40 employees (all software dudes or engineers). But we saw that we cannot live without MS-Office, some nice interface drivers available for Windows and that are supported and work the way they are intended to. We were having no problem with the network, in fact the server had never crashed for past 8 years. they brought it down only once when they wanted to upgrade it from NT4.0 to 2000.
    Someone might argue that we are stuck with MS due to data freedom issue, but that is not the case. I dont blame MS for that.
    Anyways to cut short, its not the OS that matters, its the whole environment that shapes the market. MS environment is more mature and apart from their OS their products are more stable (ref to MS office compared to open office).
    btw, we at the university (am now doing phd) use ubuntu, but only at CS department. All other departments use windows because of non-trivial problems faced by newbie.

  4. In a very small business I support, we use Ubuntu on the on-site servers, but currently Windows on the desktops. We’ll be upgrading the workstations (to laptops) in the next year, and I’ll load a couple with Ubuntu for a test run, and after a month (or less, if necessary) re-evaluate the direction we go with Ubuntu on the desktops.

    Good luck!

  5. Hi Tim,

    Here’s a link to a series of case studies on Ubuntu’s own Web site. Many of them look to be desktop cases. Funny the Canonical PR person did not point you to them.

    Stephen Wilson

  6. The main reason you won’t find many Ubuntu desktops in business is that RedHat and Novell pretty much own this space right now and have pretty much all the needed management tools needed to manage hundreds of Linux desktops. Ubuntu is getting there, but it’s not there yet. Give them time.

  7. We tried, gave up and moved back to Ubuntu. We are a small IT consultancy firm and provide solutions mainly on Linux but had been using Windows internally. We tried to push Linux on the desktop internally but failed initially with Fedora 4. We gave up and used Windows for a year or so. Recently we installed Ubuntu 7.04 for one of the developers when he was complaining of Virus/Worm issues and after seeing his hassle free desktop and the breadth of other applications, the rest of the employees actually came up and requested Ubuntu including all departments. Our infrastructure costs have come down dramatically.

    The only place we find problems are when people send us doc/docx documents. We are requesting them to send PDFs and things are running smoothly. In spite of having been a Linxu advocate in the server space, Ubuntu 7.04 is the first distro which seems to come even close on the desktop.

    Please check out my blog on where Linux fails big time on the Enterprise desktop. Also check out the associated blogs (listed in the blog header) from my organisation.

  8. I am working as administrator in a German company with 15 employees; my desktop is Ubuntu, at the moment it is the only Linux-running computer in the company.

    It works pretty well for me, and I prefer Open Office to MS Office any day. Sadly, most of my colleagues suffer from the typical Windows user inertia; better the devil you know.

    We are using an ERP solution which is Windows only, but if I get my way and we are going to replace it one day I’ll try an open source solution such as LX Office, which will run on a Linux server and work with clients using a web browser, regardless of OS.

    The one problem I could not solve as yet is printing brochures on our Ricoh Aficio MP C2000; brochure printing including the rearrangement of pages and folding and stapling the brochure neatly seems to be outside of the capability of the driver.

    As the machines we sell work with Windows if they work with computers at all, I suppose we won’t all be able to switch, at least not the technical department, but many of us could.

  9. We use a special adaptation of the Ubuntu desktop for our business, both produced by Open Sense Solutions (http://www.groovix.com). Our 300 public workstations have been using it for some time; our staff are migrating now from XP. We’ll have well over 575 PCs running Ubuntu.

  10. Internally, many IBM’ers run Ubuntu on their work PC’s. I can’t say exactly how many because noone keeps track of it, but there are enough that Ubuntu has its own internal mirror and IBM-specific software repository, so it’ll be at least a few thousand.

  11. “this is nonsense, we use Ubuntu in business”

    Actually we use Kubuntu on all our machines at My Game Company. We do e-mail, software development, web site development and publishing, artwork, order fulfillment, finances, and all of our backend work on Kubuntu. We use Firefox for internet access, Thunderbird for our e-mail client, SpamAssassin for our spam filtering, GIMP for most of our game art, SoniK for audio editing, gftp for FTP, and CrossOver Linux for all the Windows applications we need (including Office 2000, Frontpage 2000, Quicken, Corel Photopaint 8, and FeedForAll). For development, we use makefiles to build, nedit for our code editor, ddd for our debugger, and Bitrock for our installers. We have also been helping beta test the upcoming Linux version of gDEBugger for OpenGL profiling.

    We only use Windows and Mac when we have to port and test our games.

    We’ve been very happy with Kubuntu since we switched a year and a half ago. The file system is so much faster than Windows, and the machines are much more responsive. It is also very stable. The Windows apps run very well under CrossOver Linux, and in fact some of them start up faster on Kubuntu than they do on the same machine running Windows XP (my machine has swappable hard drives with different operating systems on various drives). We’ve had no problems with viruses, spyware, or adware. It has been a very satisfying experience, and we have no intention of ever going back to Windows.

  12. This is fascinating stuff. I’d be even more interested to know what considerations prefigured the move to Ubuntu in the first place. What were you hoping to improve or eliminate? And did the eventual experience live up to expectations? If not, why not?

  13. As the PR guy who wrote the quote, albeit in a rushed email exchange not an official statement, let me complete the context. The vast majority of Ubuntu users are individuals using it either at home or at work. We see Ubuntu on desktops in thousands of companies across the world but that is different to being standardised as the desktop solution in these companies. As the IBM guy above says “we have guys running Ubuntu” but are IBM an official reference for Ubuntu? Sadly, no.

    So, ill-chosen words. For consumer read individual. I would appeal to readers who are using Ubuntu to tell us and let us use them as case studies to encourage others and to give to people like Tim as examples of businesses running Ubuntu. Consider buying support to resolve any issues – Landscape is designed to manage multiple deployments and is free with support contracts. Contribute, in short, and help us as we continue to invest to resolve the remaining issues on the way to widespread adoption in businesses.

    Gerry Carr
    Marketing Manager, Canonical

  14. We are a small Community Centre. We have an IT Training Room with 8 Stations. We have traditionally used Windows and Office but this year we made all machines dual boot with Ubuntu 7.04. We now give users the option of using MS or Ubuntu.

    We also have 2 machines used in the Refreshment area as Internet access terminals and these machines are dedicated to Ubuntu and Firefox.

    Additionally we have 3 Machines used by the staff group all of which are now Ubuntu only.

    All of the above are networked.

    We are finding widespread acceptance of Ubuntu anongst the users of the Centre and are contunually asked to help with setting up of new systems in peoples homes.

    The machines in the Cafe are very heavily used and used to be problematic in the Widows configuation. Now apart from a weekl;y upgrade check they never require attention and remain virus/worm/spyware free

    Ubuntu is now the system of choice for both the Centre staff and users. In management terms upgrade costs, maintanence time and reliability have improved greatly.

    Over the last 12 months we have seen a remarkable transition from Ubuntu being a curiosity to it becoming our system of choice.

    Bring on 7.10!!!

  15. My business is swamped with requests to migrate to Linux, and we’re happy to recommend Ubuntu to them. No reason other than most of our customers find it easy to use, and that means it makes our job (of supporting them) easier too.

    We do support other distros, but our customers rarely request them. Most of them are using Ubuntu.

    Those who uses non-Ubuntu distros are using it for various reasons : support (example: Oracle will not support your installation if you’re not using RedHat), dependency issues (example: zenworks won’t work on non-Suse distro), etc.

    From my experience in the trenches :
    Technical problems are NO problem. Most of the time, the solutions already exist, or you can create it yourselves.

    The biggest problems with migration projects are (in no particular order) : political problems, resistance to change, user perception, etc.

    Therefore, for a migration project to be successful, you’ll need a team composed of people with SOFT skills as well as hard/technical skills. Otherwise, it’ll be a very tough or even an impossible mission.

    Unfortunately, people like this (balanced soft/technical skills) is VERY hard to find. I’m having problems increasing my capacity, and have had to (sadly) refuse projects.

    Anyway, Ubuntu is on the right track there with their focus to desktop / end-users, along with LinuxMint & PC linux os. Keep it up !

  16. Well as far as Ubuntu, on the desktop and at work, I work for a oil change facility that has two thin client stations running Ubuntu from a main server that also acts as our main computer for orders, cashier transactions etc.

    We do have one MS XP system we use to network connect to our other store, but as far as anything else its all managed by Ubuntu.

  17. Hello,

    This is exciting page for me. I use Vista and actually use all opensource applications on it as I dont like MS products. I use Thunderbird, firefox, google tools, skype, LAMP development tools, GIMP and OpenOffice. I am seriously thinking about installing Ubuntu on my desktop.

    Still I have 1 fear … will it be difficult to recover data from corrupt Ubuntu installation if there is any problem with it in future? As I will carry business data on my laptop which is in GBs.


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