Linux in Business: The Desktop is Dying
Linux in Business: The
Desktop is Dying
By Mark Rais, senior
editor Reallylinux.com and author of Linux for the Rest of Us 2nd
You may also benefit from the article: 45 Minutes to a Linux Terminal Server
The desktop PC in
business, I propose, is a dying entity. Microsoft’s method of
licensing and dominating PCs, and thereby the desktop, began over 20 years ago. It began in an era
where the unique power of a personal computer offered an individual
user freedom to operate applications and control data. In the days
when mainframes and minis dominated, allowing a user control was
profound and profoundly freeing.
There has been so much
debate and discussion regarding the Linux desktop and Microsoft’s
hold on the market. Yet, in all the debate, few express the reality
that is slowly permeating businesses and organizations on a global
scale. Brian Profitt, LinuxToday managing editor, may have said it
his evaluation that the definition of "desktop" is
constantly changing and perhaps the word is even a misnomer.
The desktop as it
applies to independent PCs running applications was once
something enriching, something positive for the user. Over the years
the power we had as desktop users substantially declined. I'm not referring to the GUIs mind you, I'm talking about the overall OS experience. As the
years passed and more and more complexity entered the desktop
environment, businesses found an ever increasing burden of managing
those independent desktops.
The once mighty PC is seen as a threat, vulnerable to trojans and viruses that spread to other PCs across the network. The dominance of
software licensing schemes further exacerbates this growing view that
a business desktop PC is dangerous and burdensome.
Today we lock down
these PCs, control them through a central IT group and call them
"managed desktops." Ironically, and almost laughably, today the
personal computer in business is nothing more than a storage of
applications that require licensing schemes and are controlled by a
And on top of this
reality, in almost every business environment, all of the actual data
resides on the network file systems. Much of the work done day to
day comes from NT servers or off the Exchange servers. The PC
sitting under the desk does little more than drive applications and cost
At the same time that
the wonderful freeing power of a personal computer ended, another
paradigm shift began. The cost of hardware fell below the price of
I can purchase a
powerful new desktop computer for far less than the price of the
software applications that will run on it. In this new paradigm we
have a profound irony. The desktop is now an inhibitor and hurdle in
the business environment.
"The desktop is now an
inhibitor and hurdle in the business environment."
Having hundreds of
individual machines running applications that must be controlled and
managed has returned us to a time when computers were
cumbersome and costly, and few people received control.
The solution to this
encumbrance is a full fledged return to the age of mainframes and
minis, when they did the work and every user simply connected through
However, the power and
the cost of this is dramatically different today.
I once worked on large
UNIX mainframes, profoundly expensive but powerful systems, through
a terminal connection. My amber colored video display opened a thin
door into the raw power of the mainframe system. Today, instead, I
replace this with an inexpensive Linux Terminal Server that offers
full graphical capabilities. It also
frees me as a user to have that necessary and desired control over my
own "virtual desktop" and personal login.
The brains, the power,
the applications, the file store is all coming from the central
server called the Linux Terminal Server. Instead of a central
managed Microsoft server, you have a central Linux server, but no
desktop licensing or maintenance.
In businesses world
wide, a growing number of IT managers recognize this unique power to
simply disconnect their desktop hard disks and remove the core of
what dominates their lives. Instead, they switch OFF the "desktop"
and switch ON the "thin client to terminal server" readily
available for FREE with Linux.
Basic thin-clients to Terminal Server setup through the LAN
The diagram above attempts
to show the incredible power and the utter simplicity of using the
Linux Terminal Server. The server, upon boot-up, automatically maps
254 virtual nodes and alias IP addresses to a network card.
When any PC is
connected to the network on the Terminal Server's subnet, the PC can
become a thin-client within seconds. It then operates as if it is a
full fledged login to the terminal server.
Every PC in a business
environment including the CEO's laptop can access the Terminal Server
when a simple 10 second change to the BIOS setting is made. The PC
BIOS should be set so that it boots first to a Network device using
the PXE protocol.
Even if you've never
looked over your PC's BIOS or changed boot device sequences, this is a
trivial step. You can read my basic guide to setting up Terminal Servers and clients
for more proof.
Now a business can
place the full burden of serving applications, managing user logins,
providing layers of security, and centralizing the corporate data on
to the Terminal Server.
Best of all, there is
minimal effort involved in converting an existing Microsoft desktop
to a Linux thin-client with access to OpenOffice, Internet surfing,
firewall protection and more. Once a terminal server is installed (about
45 minutes) you can add any PC on the network (about 10 seconds).
"There is minimal effort
involved in converting an existing Microsoft desktop to a Linux
thin-client with access to OpenOffice, Internet surfing, firewall
No longer is there a
need for costly and increasingly complex desktop maintenance,
management, and installation. Instead, within minutes new thin
clients are set up and enabled to tap into the Terminal Server. It
takes far less time and money to install and maintain. It can be
integrated into almost any business within a day. It can address
future licensing and support need for years.
It's true. In the
past, this premise failed as a result of incompatibilities with
existing infrastructure. However, today the Linux Terminal Server
Project takes all of the complexity out of the picture and provides a
solution so thorough that it includes many features.
Furthermore, a major tool that is
often included with Linux Terminal Server installations is
rdesktop (a remote client for Windows Terminal Server). This
enables direct connections from thin clients to the existing
Microsoft Windows infrastructure as well as the Linux Terminal
Server. You don't need to throw out existing infrastructure; you can
integrate with the existing servers. Powerful tools
like SAMBA expand on this and offer full file-sharing compatibility
across the heterogenous network.
As if this were not enough, I've personally found that some businesses see a performance gain using a Linux Terminal Server. In many corporations, the desktop systems are outdated and run an app like Adobe Acrobat Reader from their own hard disks far slower than they would through a Terminal Server connection. Rather than begin yet another upgrade cycle, these companies gain a performance benefit by switching to the Linux Terminal Server model.
Minimal effort and
maximum cost savings are presented in a new paradigm. Linux
Thin-Clients are the new paradigm and the new business IT solution.
"Linux Thin-Clients are
the new paradigm and the new business IT solution."
I propose that Linux Thin
Clients are indeed a key fulcrum for migration away from the expensive
licensed desktop model Microsoft enabled as a marketing mechanism
long ago. Instead, we have a solution that breaks this model, frees
companies to scale their infrastructure for far less cost, and still
provides the end user applications, access and tools essential to
daily business use.
Of course the Linux
Terminal Server is not a panacea. It can not resolve a business’
existing issues with managing Microsoft ADS, scaling for Exchange
server or supporting older NT infrastructure. Nor can the Terminal
Server address the problem of entrenchment or recalcitrant attitudes
toward using different but compatible applications.
However, the Linux
Terminal Server can make a dramatic difference when applied to the
context of changing the existing desktop license and upgrade model
(read this as the bottom line: MONEY). When applied appropriately,
the only key maintenance effort will be around supporting and
updating software and hardware on the terminal server (read this as:
KEEP IT SIMPLE). I share additional details regarding this in my
article on Linux in Education.
I strongly recommend IT
managers and business leaders take a moment to evaluate the
possibilities of using Linux Terminal Servers. Get a preconfigured copy (K-12LTSP) and try it out in a small prototype setting. You can review how
beneficial Linux Terminals have been for educational environments as well as
other use cases on the
you're interested in other real world examples, here are a few from the Linux
Lab (K-12) projects:
case study in Korea,
in US high schools, and various lab case studies.
Mark Rais, author of Linux for the Rest of Us 2nd Ed, dedicates his time and
energy promoting OpenSource technology, especially among the
poor and where a technology divide exists. He serves as senior editor for reallylinux.com and as technology consultant to companies interested in switching to Linux.
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