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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.

Android: Early Returns Are Promising (But They Are Early)

Android is designed for simplicity with apps housed on a main home screen where they are easy to find. There are thousands of business-minded Android apps, including Evernote, Skype, and Dropbox, which take advantage of the operating system's touch features on a desktop touchscreen.

Surprisingly, Android has started showing up on business-class computers, including the new HP Slate21 Pro. Normally, the OS is used exclusively on smartphones and tablets.

One major Android OS benefit is that it's designed to run on slower mobile processors. That means a desktop computer such as the Slate21 Pro gets a major boost when running on a quadcore chipset such as NVIDIA Tegra 4. In tests at the Consumer Electronic Show 2014, the Slate21 performed more like a high-end workstation; apps started immediately without any of the typical desktop-computing delays.

HP's Javaid says the Slate21 Pro adds security and management features to help IT keep tabs on this computer in the workplace. The Slate21 also includes the Kingsoft Office Suite, Google Docs, Google Drive and 50GB of free Box cloud storage. IT can manage those systems using existing mobile management tools such as MobileIron.

"It's still early for these types of deployments in large enterprises," 451 Research's Lyman says, "but as the power and reach of mobile devices and mobile operating systems such as Android grow, we are likely to see more mobile OS use bleed over to desktops."

Ubuntu Desktop: An Unfamiliar Favorite

A leading Linux option for large companies, Ubuntu has whittled away most of its user interfaces problems over the years. Ubuntu 13 is free to deploy and now includes some powerful search options where end-users can limit search criteria to, say, a specific phrase in a specific document library. Ubuntu also includes a full office suite called LibreOffice, which is compatible with Microsoft Office file formats.

"Ubuntu has the added benefit of a highly active community of users and developers," says Jon Melemut, vice president of professional and engineering services at Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. "This community provides feedback and input on a daily basis, keeping Ubuntu's technology on the absolute cutting edge and staying ahead of any rising security threats."

"Ubuntu is an appealing Linux option that provides a more user-friendly, less-geeky Linux that can support most desktop applications and functionality," says Lyman. "Ubuntu can provide some cost, management and security advantages, in part thanks to ties to Ubuntu server use. However, Ubuntu is still an unfamiliar name the enterprise."

Some PC vendors are treating Ubuntu a bit more seriously than before. The Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition uses Intel Haswell chipset and offers fast SSD storage. The touch-enabled laptop comes with pre-installed apps for developers. Dell also provides support for these systems - thereby addressing one of the great challenges in deploying Linux in business.


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