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3 free alternatives to Windows for desktop PCs

John Brandon | March 25, 2014
It's an increasingly mobile world -- and the mobile future of Windows is dubious. To better accommodate end users, CIOs would be wise to consider these three alternatives to Windows on the desktop -- Chrome, Android and Ubuntu.

For any executive tasked with managing the computing infrastructure of a large organization, there's one clear, critical element in your success: End-user adoption. A CIO might decide to augment that strategy and offer another option with full IT support but, in the end, users will decide if they like a new operating system and if they can stay productive.

For the past few decades, the default strategy has been deploy Windows on PCs, whether it's an older version such Windows 7 or the latest incarnation. In the age of mobile computing, disparate work forces and BYOD, though, the one-OS-for-all concept is not as realistic. Many end users are now using Android devices or iPhones, so it makes sense to consider an operating system that might be better-suited to those mobile alternatives.

Fortunately, several new operating systems - including Chrome, Android and Ubuntu, the popular Linux distribution - are available for those who are ready to break from Windows. tested each OS to examine the pros and cons for business use.

Chrome: Fast Access to Web Apps (But Only Web Apps)

Chrome OS is essentially a browser that takes control of a PC. There is a file system for local storage, but it's rudimentary at best, as Chrome emphasizes syncing to the cloud for storage. Even figuring out how to copy a file from one external drive to another can be a challenge. However, because there are no drivers for local printers, scanners or other office equipment, a Chrome OS computer will boot up in seconds and runs incredibly fast.

The HP Chromebook 14, for example, uses the latest Intel Celeron Haswell chipset and has built-in 4G service and 4GB of RAM (for the $350 model we tested). Web apps such as Evernote, Freshbooks and Google Docs run incredibly fast and can be accessed quickly, since boot time is a matter of seconds.

Omar Javaid, the vice president of product management and mobility at HP, says Chrome OS is ideal for business because of the automatic updates that occur in the background, saving time for IT staff who dont have to manage the systems as closely.

"If an organization has many services that are central to their job function [that] can be accessed through a browser, then Chrome OS is a viable solution," says Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies in San Jose, Calif.

Jay Lyman, and analyst with 451 Research, says large companies should be aware of Chrome's limitations - namely that end users won't get as much use out of these systems in offline mode and won't be able to run corporate desktop applications.


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