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Golden's Rules: Mixing Linux and Windows

If you listen to the debate between Microsoft advocates and open source zealots, you might easily conclude that it's an all-or-nothing proposition. For them, it's one or the other.

While the partisan participants in the discussion declaim their "truths," most of the rest of us have to exist in the real IT world. In our world, nobody runs an all one-thing shop. In fact, most of us run an all-everything shop! So, to us, the question of whether Windows and open source can coexist is critical, and the tone of the debate is pretty discouraging.

According to the partisans, we have to live with one or the other. However, don't despair if Windows is a key part of your infrastructure. Windows and open source can coexist superbly.

You have several options to use open source in a Windows-based environment. Here are some ways you can take advantage of open source at your organization:

  • Run open source on your Windows machines. Many, if not most, open source products will run on Windows. There are usually Windows-native executables available for most products, so you don't even have to go through the compilation process often necessary for Linux-based products. This is true for both Windows desktops and Windows servers. On the desktop, you can take advantage of the Firefox browser, Evolution groupware client, and the graphics processing product GIMP. On the server, you can use the Apache Web server, MySQL or PostgreSQL databases, and JBoss J2EE application server.
  • Integrate Linux into your IT infrastructure. Many organizations add Linux servers to their existing infrastructure and host important open source applications like firewalls, security software, and email on them. A classic use of Linux in a computing environment is as a print and file server, made possible by the open source product Samba.
  • Migrate to Linux. Many organizations are moving some portion of their staff to Linux desktops to reduce overall cost. Ideal uses for Linux desktops include single-application users (e.g., call center reps), simple application users (email and simple documents), or multi-system power users (those who need several machines for testing, etc.) who can use a virtual machine setup.

So, unlike oil and water, which never mix, or fish and red wine, which clash, Windows and open source can be the best of friends. Don't listen to those who insist you have to make a choice. Your choice can be to do the best, most cost-effective job for your organization by choosing the right tool for the right job.

About the author: Bernard Golden is CEO of Navica Inc., a systems integrator based in San Carlos, Calif. He is the author of Succeeding with Open Source (Addison-Wesley) and the creator of the Open Source Maturity Model, a formalized method of locating, assessing and implementing open source software.

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