Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

With coronavirus forcing us to work from home, SUSE suggests the Linux desktop

As many sysadmins are discovering to their dismay, trying to manage workers from home on a wild mix of older Windows PCs is no fun at all. So, SUSE has a suggestion: The Linux desktop.

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Misery is being a system administrator and discovering -- as your workforce marches away to work from home, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic -- that many of your home users are still running Windows 7 or Windows XP. Of course, you could send them home with Windows 10 laptops or have them all log in via Windows remote desktop services (RDS), but there's no IT budget for any of that. What are you going to do? SUSE has a suggestion: Switch them to the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED).

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Now, you may think, "Of course, they're a Linux company." But you'd be wrong. 

None of the major enterprise Linux companies have been pushing the Linux desktop forward for some time. Their focus for over a decade now has been first on servers, then the cloud, and now, containers and Kubernetes. The Linux desktop has been on the backburner. Even Canonical with its Ubuntu desktop -- perhaps the first name in business Linux desktops these days -- is answering Linux desktop demand and not actually out there marketing it to customers.   

The Linux desktop today is driven largely by developers and fans. The most popular Linux desktops, such as MX Linux, Manjaro, and (my own favorite) Linux Mint are community rather than corporate-driven. 

But then along came the coronavirus and the sudden rush of people to work from home, and SUSE quickly figured out there was a new, underserved market for the Linux desktop: Companies with little in the way of resources that need to keep their businesses running with what their IT department and users already have at hand. 

Specifically,  IT managers facing the following problems:

  • Hardware bottlenecks: The market can hardly meet the sharply increased demand for appropriate hardware. Business notebooks or desktop computers for a large number of home office users are often not available at short notice.
  • Limited budgets: In many organizations, there is no budget for the unplanned procurement of hardware and licenses. Organizations also bear a high investment risk, as it is not yet possible to predict how long the additional equipment will be needed.
  • Time pressure: Every day counts. The longer it takes for employees in the home office to be able to work productively again, the greater the losses for the company.
  • Security: Home office workers should connect to the company network securely and without the need for specialized and thus expensive hard or software.

The answer, wrote Joachim Werner, SUSE's senior product manager for systems management, is to overcome these challenges with open-source software. Specifically, SUSE has put together SUSE Home Office Workplace. This is a way to deploy short-term, home-office workstations using SLED, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), and SUSE Manager.

With this, you can quickly and easily get your remote staff back on the job using built-in open source applications such as the LibreOffice suite. But it also still uses Microsoft Office 365 applications via a web browser and connects to virtual desktops from Microsoft. 

SUSE isn't trying to convert you to a pure Linux desktop; it's using the Linux desktop to let your homebound staffers get work done using SLED on your existing, out-of-date, by Windows-standard PCs.

As Werner stated:

"Linux operating systems perform well even on hardware with low system resources. This makes it easy for companies to turn their discarded PCs and notebooks into secure devices for home office users. You can even run SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for Arm on a Raspberry Pi."

To manage these users, you use SUSE Manager. This program provides you with automatic installation and creation of disk images, and it provides centralized configuration management of all clients. Administrators also get a complete overview of all necessary updates and patches. If you need more remote workstations and virtual servers, you can load balance them in the data center with SLES and Linux's built-in virtualization program KVM.

SUSE is offering the following in SUSE Home Office Workplace:

  • Rapid deployment of home office workstations with SLED and SLES for Arm for the Raspberry Pi
  • Integrated OpenVPN for connecting remote users securely to the company
  • Central configuration and image management with SUSE Manager

And, how much will this cost? Zero. Zip. The package comes with a 60-day free evaluation of all the programs. After that, you pay only for the systems you actually use via SUSE's subscription model.

If you're having fits trying to keep your company afloat now that your staff's scattered and because of a lack of resources, you should consider giving this SUSE offer a try. For more information about the SUSE Home Office Workplace, see SUSE's QuickStart Guide. Questions? SUSE wants you to contact the company with any queries.

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