Surviving the recession with Free Linux distributions (Part 1)

Surviving the recession with Free Linux distributions (Part 1)

Summary: Times are tough. You're a computer geek and you need to feed your PC with the latest and greatest applications.



Times are tough. You're a computer geek and you need to feed your PC with the latest and greatest applications. What's a frugal nerd to do? A group of industry peers was recently asked by a colleague the following question: "If an SMB wants to upgrade from XP, what Linux variants would you recommend?"

The first to answer that call among our group was Kenneth Hess, over at DaniWeb, who put together his own "Top 10" list.

While it's admirable that Ken did the work, I think his list is flawed because he's mixing both End-User and Enterprise, and his personal biases are evident. In this first of two parts, I'm going to discuss the major flavors of Linux that best suit the needs of end-users, have no acquisition cost, and also have the best chance of surviving through an extended recession that could last several years. In the second installment, I'm going to address the Enterprise/Server distributions that have the same characteristics.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Ubuntu Desktop Edition

Web Site:

More Information:

Let's face it, Ubuntu has had a meteoric rise to popularity since the project had its first milestone release four years ago in October of 2004. It quickly displaced Redhat's own Fedora project as the top downloaded community Linux distribution, and there's no signs of its energy abating anytime soon.

Distributed in a number of different official flavors depending on your GUI and feature sets of choice, and also "re-mixed" by many less prominent Linux distributions such as Mint and gNewSense, it is by far one of the easiest Linux distributions to install due to its relatively small payload (a single CD-ROM, with the balance of its applications installable over the Internet using package feeds) and comprehensive device driver support. The system can also be installed on top of your existing Windows installation using Wubi without re-partitioning your drive, which is great for fence-sitters who want to check out the OS before completely reformatting the system with Linux or want to easily able to dual-boot. Additionally, with the backing of billionaire Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu's financial stability is ensured for years to come. Ubuntu is a very safe choice for anyone looking to weather the financial storm and to use a free OS, and its constant six-month refresh with the latest and greatest software makes it a great system for those of you who always need to be on the bleeding edge.

The Support Skinny: for Ubuntu "Long Term Support" (LTS) versions: 3 years of security and stability updates. LTS versions are being released once every two years. The current LTS is 8.04. For "Normal" versions: 18 months of security and stability updates. Normal versions are being released once every 6 months. On the end of this month, a new normal version will be released.


Web Site:

More Information:

Like Ubuntu, OpenSUSE is a relatively new player on the community/free Linux distribution game -- it recently celebrated its first three years a community-driven Open Source project. However, its relatively new Community status is misleading, because the project is supported by 16 years of experience from its parent company, SUSE, the most popular Linux distribution in Europe, which was formally acquired by Novell in January of 2004.

At summer LinuxWorld Expo in 2005, its commercial and successful SUSE Linux Professional product was spun off as an Open Source project, what we now know as OpenSUSE. The code base behind OpenSUSE is the basis for both SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, which are two of the most polished corporate/enterprise Linux products available on the market today.

Unlike Ubuntu, OpenSUSE is the "Kitchen Sink" of Linux distributions. Most commonly distributed as a  DVD (although a CD-ROM Live CD is also available)  it includes thousands of packages. I've always considered OpenSUSE to be the Cadillac or Mercedes Benz of Linux distros, and it should provide more than enough meat, features and a support base to get end-users through tough times.

Like its rival, the Fedora Project at Red Hat, OpenSUSE is the "proving ground" for many technologies that eventually make its way into SLES and SLED, so its a critical project for the company. Among a host of other reasons, Novell is more than likely to stay financially stable due to its interoperability alliance with and partial financial support from Microsoft, which also makes it something of a pariah in fundamentalist Free Software/Open Source circles.  Still, what some people regard as a weakness is also regarded as a strength by the Enterprise crowd -- its privileged status with Microsoft will always make it the most interoperable Linux distro with Microsoft systems for the foreseeable future.

The Support Skinny: 2 years of security and stability updates for each major version. Versions are being released once every 6 months. The Current release version is 11.0. OpenSUSE can also be purchased in boxed format with installation media, a printed Start-Up manual and 90 days of paid technical support for $59.95.


Web Site:

More Information:

Red Hat has continuously stated that it has no interest in pursuing the Desktop market, but that's of little concern to anyone because it has satisfied the needs of the end-user with Fedora, which recently celebrated its 5th anniversary as an Open Source project. Backed by the #1 Enterprise Linux vendor, any questions of its chances of survival during these tough times are moot -- it will continue to be the essential developer and testing environment for the Red Hat ecosystem for years to come. In terms of "Safeness" in terms of support it's probably one of the safest choices for a Linux distribution if you want to weather the storm, as it's backed by the healthiest Open Source company in the industry.

Fedora isn't just the Volvo sedan of community OSes, though -- it's an extremely active Open Source project, and is consistently one of the first to inject bleeding edge features into its OS before anyone else, such as its early adoption of  KDE 4 and the KVM virtualization stack. However, some would say that Fedora is a bit too bleeding edge, in that unlike Ubuntu, Debian, or OpenSUSE which has much longer support cycles, it phases out support for its versions very quickly -- it is a project that by definition is a constantly moving target. Still, if you can commit to keeping up with new releases, Fedora is a great end-user Linux distribution.

The Support Skinny: 1 year of security and stability updates. Versions are being released once every 6 months.

Debian GNU/Linux

Web Site:

More information:

Debian has to be on this list because it is the very definition of "stable", "community" and "free". While definitely not the sexiest of any of the distributions on this list, its importance to the Open Source community is immense. As the "mother" Linux distribution, it breast-feeds many other "child" Linux distributions with its nourishing milk of source packages, the most notable of which is Ubuntu, which could hardly afford to let the project fail due to its huge dependence on Debian for its base systems architecture.

Debian GNU/Linux, which is sponsored by Software in the Public Interest, is related to GNU Project which is a not-for-profit entity supported by the Free Software Foundation, and has thousands of developers around the world, and the largest community of any of the Linux distributions, due to the fact that it cross-pollinates so many other projects. In fact, many of the Ubuntu developers are also Debian developers. Founded in 1993 and the the oldest of the community-supported Linux distributions, it could probably be considered something of a futuristic Monastic Order if you had to classify it in terms of its safeness factor and likelihood of longevity. Like the Albertian Order of St. Leibowitz or the Mathics, The world economy could collapse into a new Dark Ages and it would be likely Debian would probably still be around.

Debian used to be picked on for being difficult to install, but a lot has changed over the years. Since the 4.0 release of "Etch" in April of 2007 the system has had a graphical installation program, and for the most part is no more difficult to install than its more famous child, Ubuntu.  Debian also supports its "stable" releases for several years before phasing them out, so you can be assured that you've got a platform that won't break on you. The flip side of this is that Debian releases tend to take years, so most hard-core Debian fans using the OS for a desktop use the "unstable" feed of the OS or lean towards Ubuntu.

With thousands of developers, thousands of software packages on its feeds, and a massive end-user community, Debian is the safest of the safe if you're looking to weather a very long economic storm with a Linux distribution.

The Support Skinny: Debian has a very strict and comprehensive release and support cycle. The Debian support cycle includes milestone"Stable" releases, with "Unstable" package feeds being constantly revised and maintained. "Stable" releases are typically released and updated with security and bugfixes over a period of 3 to 4 years, with older versions having overlapping support cycles into the current released versions.

Part 2: Surviving the Recession with Free Enterprise Operating Systems

Topics: Software, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Re: Surviving...


    Great article as always, even if you have to diss me to do it.
    • Ubuntu + Linux Terminal Server Project

      If faced with upgrading from XP to Vista (and requiring new hardware to run Vista) then moving to Linux makes perfect sense.

      The next step to realize, is that by installing Ubuntu there is a very well integrated package of LTSP (linux terminal server project). This allows using beefy servers and either thin clients or stripping out current fat clients running Windows and and turning them into Thin Clients. Then a half dozen commands later and these machines can network boot off the servers.

      Easier maintenance for the IT group later (where the real savings is at).

      I've used 10 year old computers as thin clients for manufacturing businesses (from receptionist through engineering quality manufacturing and shipping). This can save a huge amount of cash for a company - maybe they are expanding with new business and need workstations for many new people? Lots of options.

      Linux can definitely save a company money - no matter what their condition.
      • ThinStation and/or Wyse Linux terminals

        We have been gradually replacing Windows desktops with thin clients running Linux. In some cases we simply run ThinStation on old PCs (late 90's models are fine), booting from CD or even the network. Linux-based Wyse terminals are also inexpensive (~$300?), small (can be bolted to back of a LCD monitor), and reliable.

        Granted, they're all connecting to a Windows terminal server, but it has saved us a good bit on desktop replacement costs.
  • Support periods

    Good article! I think it would be helpful if you would mention the exact support periods for each distribution.

    1. LTS version (Long Term Supported): 3 years of security and stability updates.
    LTS versions are being released once every two years. The current LTS is 8.04.

    2. Normal version: 18 months of security and stability updates. Normal versions are being released once every 6 months. On the end of this month, a new normal version will be released: 8.10.

    Obviously, the LTS version is the version of choice here, for a business.

    2 years of security and stability updates for each version. Versions are being released once every 6 months.

    1 year of security and stability updates. Versions are being released once every 6 months.

    By the way, I think Fedora is unfit for corporate use, because of it's short support period.

    [b]CentOS and Scientific Linux:[/b]
    A much more logical choice for a business seeking something in the Red Hat family, would be CentOS, which is a revamped Red Hat. Very long support. And extremely stable and reliable.

    Or even Scientific Linux, which is also a revamped Red Hat. Also benefited by long-term support and extreme reliability.

    Greeting, Pjotr.
    • Thanks, and added

      I added the "Support Skinny" for each OS.

      CentOS is going to be in Part 2 of this article.
    • You missed Redhat for business...

  • Pound for pound ...

    I think you're the best Zdnet might have.
    Dre` is OK, but he is still too Windows centric.

    Keep'em comming.

    ^o^ ]:)
  • I'm particular to Ubuntu ...

    ...since it does offer LTS versions and there is no free versus professional version. They're one in the same so none of the feelings that by using the free version your treated like a second class citizen.

    Ubuntu also have brand recognition and is readily identifiable. SuSe had this prior to its acquisition by Novell, but somehow Novell has not been able to capitalize on their investment other than the bribe ... uh, "collaborative funds" that Microsoft so generously invested into the company.

    You also have to look at the direction that Ubuntu is going from its leadership. Mark Shuttleworth is charismatic, charming, and overall a very good spokesman for both Ubuntu and Linux in general. And yes I do have a man crush on Shuttleworth if you haven't noticed.

    So Ubuntu appears to be doing for Linux what others in the past have not been able to do effectively, which is raise awareness of Linux as a viable option on the desktop with a friendly to use comprehensive distro. ;)
    • I too like ubuntu...

      ...but I think we're kidding ourselves if we think moving to Linux desktops for major corporations is an answer at the moment. Too much infrastructure and embedded cost I'm afraid.

      The real issue here is that sooner or later the Linux community is going to have to get behind one distribution and then we're going to have to start talking licensing and support costs. And then what happens? Yup, Microsoft Part Deux.
      Sleeper Service
      • Kidding

        The first rule of that recession is that nothing changes that doesn't have to. No new purchases. No new roll-outs.

        As much as I'd like to say "the recession is going to be Linux's breakthrough" (I'm an 11-year Linuxer), it isn't going to happen. No one is going to take that kind of risk and investment in a downturn.

        In places where it's already rolling out, they might have incentive to continue, but nothing new is going to happen for a while.
      • No, that should not happen ...

        [i]The real issue here is that sooner or later the Linux community is going to have to get behind one distribution and then we're going to have to start talking licensing and support costs. And then what happens? Yup, Microsoft Part Deux.[/i]

        That should not happen since the kernel and the distribution are different parts of the equation. Neither one can't survive without the other, they have a symbiotic relationship.

        Now since the kernel is the constant in the equation, only the distro can be competitive. So you shouldn't have the monopoly effect taking place like when one company has control over both components.

        As far as Microsoft I don't want them driven out of existence, but only to a level that allows for [b]true[/b] competition on the desktop and not the current conditions that encompasses stagnation of technology and excessive pricing. :)
      • Hammer, nail

        [i]The real issue here is that sooner or later the Linux community is going to have to get behind one distribution and then we're going to have to start talking licensing and support costs.[/i]

        Well, you may have a point. Certainly automobiles never really became popular until the emergence of a single manufacturer and the disappearance of all of the others. Same for air travel.

        That, or maybe your only experience is with monopoly-dominated markets and so that's the model you force everything into.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • So...

 the vast majority of cars use an internal combustion engine and the vast majority of planes jet engines?

          Oh they do?

          Yay for bad analogies!
          Sleeper Service
          • Engine is a kernel

            All the distributions use same (or similar) kernels and most software, but they do differ in othe points. Therefore your analogy is wrong, and not the fellow you were replying to.
          • Ding! Ding! Ding! ...

            ..give that man a cigar! ;)
          • Point conceded.

            Although it is still a bad analogy because there's always been more than one choice of automobile available.
            Sleeper Service
          • .....

            Not always, initially all there was, was Fords [Microsoft] (in the US at least). Also it's an excellent analogy. The engine (kernel) has many options, and several configurations. Horizontally opposed pistons? Porche... 4, 6 or 8 cylinders? Turbo, Super Charged, dual ignition, hemi-heads... each item defines the overall experience. Just like in computing...

            Same goes with jet engines too. You have split spool, constant speed, variable speed, 10, 13, 16, 22 stage engines... want or need a turbofan?

            But you at least conceded the point was valid, but to say a bad analogy is off base. ]:)
            Linux User 147560
        • You may be missing the biggest advantage MS has.

          The fact that just about everybody writes software for it first if they want to get paid and port to other OSs if they even bother just as the hackers mainly go after it.

          If the browser becomes the OS for cloud computing that might change because only the browser would matter but then you have to write for the most popular browser which will tend to make the same browser the most popular browser.

          I as a end user can get by with ubuntu and the software that comes with it. It pinches a little at times but then every OS does.
          • As a software developer...

            I write windows software for a living. I'm very frustrated with my user base, as they feel *MY* system slows down to a crawl after a few months worth of use.

            I advise them to run anti-virus, firewall, NAT router, etc... When they're down, do they blame themselves for not following the advice? No - they blame 'the system'.

            That's one aspect where writing for Win32 is getting tiresome. And now win32 is going away! Microsoft has changed things (again!).

            The plan is to run our Win32 apps via Wine on Linux. In the meantime, we're writing the next version and will NOT be targeting Win32 or Windows. QT seems like a decent framework and our application source code won't be obsoleted by the next revision of the development tool! For our windows users that won't switch to Linux - QT apps are cross platform.
    • Another good choice...

      ..also a ubuntu derivative, Linux Mint.<br>
      I is very easy to install and is surprisingly capable.<br>
      <a href="">Read about it here...</a>
      Tim Patterson