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Open source software on the desktop — Is it right for you?

Thinking of switching to open source? Don’t underestimate what the true acquisition cost will be.

There are few topics more heated than the discussion surrounding Open Source vs. Microsoft. This discussion typically focuses on the difference between Linux and Windows as an operating system. This is, however, only one dimension of the problem. You have to consider both the operating system and the office software that most users use. You must add to that everything else you have to support that isn’t included in the basic office applications.

Comparable and compatible

One of the arguments towards placing open source software on the desktop is that it’s “comparable and compatible.” Comparable means it’s largely similar; it performs the same functions. Compatible is saying simply that it works with the recognized leader in the area (Microsoft). For instance, Linux is comparable to Windows in that it’s an operating system. It’s compatible because it can read and write files to a Windows-based server (through Samba and some configuration.)  Similarly, OpenOffice is comparable to Microsoft Office in that it offers the same basic functions. It’s compatible in that it can read and write Microsoft Office files.

The rub comes in when you evaluate how comparable and compatible the solution is. From a comparable standpoint, does the solution offer the same user experience in terms of ease of use? How much will change from what’s already familiar? How about help? Despite the challenges with the help in commercial systems, it’s substantially better than the help files that exist for open source software.

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