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So, you just delivered that new PC to your customer and gave them a quick tour of what’s new and then watched their eyes glaze over with confusion.

After a few seconds, the questions start. Questions that should be easy to answer, but turn out not to be! Where is my start button? Where are my programs? What happened to the Menu in Internet Explorer? Why is the system constantly asking for my permission to do simple things? Why does my system take so long to boot? Now your eyes glaze over, not with confusion, but with frustration and you have to ask yourself: What did I do to deserve this?

It’s simple; you sold your customer a computer with Windows Vista installed, when that customer was somewhat satisfied with Windows XP. The simple solution here would be to just sell XP with all of your systems, but let’s be realistic, that is not something Microsoft (and most of the large PC vendors) want to happen. Microsoft and many of the PC manufactures have taken the stance of 1930’s mother with a spoonful of cod liver oil, “you’ll take Vista and you’ll like it—or else”!

Sure, you could go out and buy a copy of Windows XP and install that, but will your customer be willing to pay for two operating systems? Especially when one version is something they don’t want! What’s more, odds are that you cannot use an older version of XP from a retired PC because of licensing issues. Adding to that issue is the fact that there may not be XP compatible drivers available for the new hardware. This leaves just two choices: force your customers to learn and use Vista or offer something else, which doesn’t add any costs.

The answer lies with the open-source community and more specifically, Linux. Sure everybody has heard about Linux (haven’t they?) and many have also heard about (and believe) the short comings of Linux. But the key here is to separate the fact from the fiction and determine if Linux (and open source) offers a true alternative to the latest bundling of PCs and Windows Vista.

First, let’s tackle some of the myths that fuel the Windows versus Linux battle.

  • Linux is difficult to use:To the contrary, the latest GUIs (or shells) that run on top of Linux are proving to be easier and easier to use. What’s more, Linux can be made to behave more like Windows XP than Windows Vista can.
  • You can’t network with Linux:Another falsehood, Linux by design is all about networking and all of the major distributions offer connectivity to all of the major NOS’s (Network Operating Systems), including Microsoft’s various flavors of NOS’s on the market.
  • Linux lacks tech support:For free support, you can’t beat the open-source community; someone somewhere will always have an answer to a problem. Beyond the free support, most of the major distributors offer paid (or bundled) tech support, which rivals the support offerings from most any other company.
  • Linux lack applications:Thanks to the open-source community and software developers promoting alternatives, there is a massive amount of software applications available for Linux, ranging from accounting to CAD to Office Suites to development tools.
  • Linux lacks features:For most any feature found in Microsoft Windows XP or Vista, there is a Linux equivalent. The advantage is that you can pick and choose what features you want and discard the unwanted ones to customize the PC to your needs.
  • It’s difficult to make a profit with Linux:While most VARs won’t see any margins for “selling” a Linux distribution, the simple fact is that every dollar saved on purchasing software is now available for support and services, which are much better revenue generators than simply moving boxes.
  • Linux is not secure:Several security technologies exist that marry well with Linux. High-end encryption, hardened user accounts and many other security features (not found in Windows) can be added to make Linux more secure than most any other operating system.
  • Linux can’t run Windows applications:There is some truth to this statement, but emulators (like crossover-office and WINE) exist that allow many Windows applications to run under Linux. Users can also turn to virtual PC technology to run virtual Window XP sessions under Linux and have access to those few applications they just can’t live without.
  • Linux has limited hardware support:Linux distributions have come a long way since the early days; the major players have made sure that drivers are available for the majority of hardware elements on the market. Hardware vendors are now also realizing that the popularity of Linux is growing and are making efforts to build driver software for their products to run under Linux.

    Arguably, the most complex thing about Linux today is picking a distribution to run. Solution providers need only consider a few simple elements when choosing what distributions to standardize on. First off, is commercial support needed? Secondly, what applications are bundled? Thirdly, is the distribution part of a networking solution (Think Red Hat/Novell)? And finally, does the distributor offer anything in the way of a channel program?

    Do Your Customers Hate Vista? Rip and Replace with a Twist

    Wading through the mass of distributions can prove to be a chore and in many cases, it can come down to taste when picking a Linux distribution. There are literally hundreds of distributions of Linux, so choose carefully. With that in mind, it may take a little poking around on the Web to see how the Linux distributions measure up. A quick visit to shows the most activity around Ubuntu, a freely available Linux distribution with both community and professional support.

    Ubuntu is definitely worth a look, with the latest distribution, version 7.10, released on Oct. 10, 2007. For those system builders looking for a commercial release of Linux, Linspire 6.0, which was also released on Oct. 10, 2007, may fit the bill. Linspire 6.0 is based upon Ubuntu, but includes some commercial applications and bundles in some technical support.

    Channel Labs’ engineers took a look at both Ubuntu and Linspire to evaluate how well those distributions can be used instead of Windows XP to replace Windows Vista. But first, lets take a look at what is involved with getting Linux and Windows Vista running happily together on the same system.

    There are two paths to follow when it comes to running Linux on a system that came with Windows Vista pre-installed. The first path involves using Virtual Machine technology, which involves configuring Windows Vista and then installing virtualization software. That software could be VMware, Parallels, or even Microsoft’s own Virtual PC product. While virtualization proves to be an excellent way to take a peek at what Linux has to offer, it proves to be a poor solution if you are looking to truly experience Linux.

    The problem is that the Virtualization software runs on top of Windows Vista, so you will run into the situation where Vista is still using significant resources on the PC and is acting as a “go-between” for Linux and the native hardware. That situation impedes any performance enhancements that Linux could offer and can potentially increase costs, more memory and additional software may be required to make a Virtual Machine work for running Linux under Vista.

    The smarter way to expose your customers to Linux is to go with a dual- (or multi-)boot arrangement. This style of installation allows a user to choose which operating system to boot up with, which will maximize the system’s performance, while eliminating the need for additional hardware. That said, there are still some pre-requisites though to make dual boot work.

    First off, you will need ample disk space to make sure that you can install an additional OS, also you will need to make sure the distribution of Linux that you chose has multi-boot capabilities (both Ubuntu and Linspire do). You can download an ISO image file of either version of Linux from the companies’ web sites. For Linspire, you will have to pay for the download (retail is $49), while Ubuntu is a free download. The 600 + MB ISO image files can then be burnt onto a CD.

    For a step-by-step guide on booting Windows out and Linux up, click here.

    Basically, that is all there is to making Linux a viable choice for those looking to flee Windows Vista anarchy.