System Administration

Linux on your desktop – pros and cons

07. December 2023, Avatar of Hanno ScheppigHanno Scheppig

While Microsoft Windows dominates the attention of anyone working in business IT, Linux has a great raison d'être in server applications. But what about using Linux on desktops?

In short

  • Using Linux as a desktop OS is uncommon compared to Windows, but it still has its place.
  • Compatibility, driver issues and habit often stand in the way of adopting it.
  • However, Linux can significantly extend the lifecycle of old hardware without Windows support and is a valid alternative for data protection in cloud applications.

Why is Linux still so little used on desktop devices? The standard answers from Windows enthusiasts are often: compatibility, driver problems, habit, company standards and much more. Lack of interest, knowledge or experience with Linux combined with solid rational objections work against wider use of the open-source operating system. It’s hard to persuade those who are simply uninterested, but it’s still worth clearing up some of the substantive prejudices against it while highlighting key opportunities for adopting it.

Extending hardware lifecycles: Why Linux is a sustainable alternative

Hardware lifecycle management is increasingly dominated by the technical requirements of new operating systems. While there are certain tricks that enable installation on old hardware, devices that cannot run Windows 11 usually will be decommissioned sooner vs. later. That’s when Linux is a potential alternative for extending the life of perfectly usable systems instead of paying to have them scrapped or recycled. Even Microsoft now recommends and documents the installation of Linux.

Open source solutions such as Linux can increase data security

Cloud solutions are indispensable, practical and convenient for seamless integration of data centers and local devices. However, data protection officers and CISOs in particular know that data stored in the cloud always carries risk. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, it can fall into the wrong hands and cause considerable financial and reputational damage. One example is Microsoft’s silence about the details of the Azure Signing Key lost in July 2023, the actual extent of which is hard to verify independently. The central question for many cybersecurity professionals is: Do I trust Microsoft with my company data?

But with open-source code like Linux, they can answer the question quickly by seeing what the OS does. There are no hidden functions that can read, analyze, or secretly transfer data to the cloud. Even the unfamiliar can count on guidance from the knowledgeable source code community. The community maintains and monitors Linux distributions transparently so that suspicious code can be detected and reported quickly. That’s a compelling reason for skeptical cybersecurity pros to seriously consider Linux.

Windows vs. Linux – why attackers prefer to use the better-known system

Another argument from a security perspective: Linux is far less likely to be targeted by malware attacks because it is not an attractive target. Malware developers and attackers usually focus on Windows because it’s the most widely used OS. The risk of being victimized by a random attack is significantly lower with Linux.

Why sysadmins should give end users the choice between Linux and Windows

But why is Linux so uncommon in business environments if it has so many advantages?

  1. Sysadmins have increasingly focused on Windows in recent years. Linux is more of an issue for admins in the server/infrastructure area. 
  2. End users accustomed to Windows on home PCs may see having to use a different OS at work as a burden.

In concrete terms, this means that a Linux distribution with a Windows-like GUI could make Linux more attractive to end users. There are plenty to choose from. At the same time, it is important to bear in mind that some business applications do not work or work as well on Linux. A company using Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams will find that it’s difficult to find suitable Linux alternatives. That’s a real minus when it comes to the Digital Employee Experience (DEX). On the DEX upside, sysadmins could give end users the choice of using Linux on their end devices and offer training to alleviate concerns.

Hybrid approaches: Combining Windows and Linux for more flexibility in IT

However, there’s lot for admins to consider when making the switch. For example, there are hybrid approaches that combine Windows with Linux. If Windows is required for certain functions or applications, a Linux end device could partially access central Windows hosts via Virtual Client Services (Remote Desktop Services, Terminal Server). IT staff also will need appropriate training to help the manage Linux endpoints. We’ll cover Linux management in a future article.

No matter your stance on the topic, it pays to be open to new things. The advantages of using Linux as a desktop OS may make it a great addition or alternative to Windows in your business IT environment. 

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