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Linux for Mortals: The Pros & Cons

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts about Linux written by CBT Nuggets’ Linux expert, Shawn Powers. Check the blog each week for his latest installment.

I’m pretty sure it’s my duty as a Linux fanatic to simply say, “There aren’t any cons to switching over to Linux. It does everything better in every situation, regardless of the scenario you’re in!”Blog-email 2

Sadly, that would make me a liar. A noble, Open Source liar, but a liar nonetheless. The truth is, Linux actually is a great fit in many situations. In fact, it’s often a good fit in places it’s not used, but that’s often due to lack of experience, ingenuity, or creativity. Let’s talk about a few scenarios:

On the Desktop

The least popular place to find Linux is on the desktop. This is unfortunate, especially given the amount of work that has gone into the desktop experience for Linux users. Still, as much as I’d like to say it is, Linux isn’t the best solution for every desktop environment.


  • Cost (usually free)
  • Stability (although other operating systems are pretty good nowadays too)
  • Far less susceptible to viruses and malware
  • Anti-virus software usually not required
  • Works well on older hardware
  • Firefox/Chrome both available


  • Active Directory tie-in works, but is sometimes buggy (auth & file sharing)
  • Proprietary Windows/OSX apps usually won’t work (Look for web solutions)
  • Internet Explorer not available for those legacy web apps that need it
  • Slight learning curve, especially for less tech savvy users
  • LibreOffice/OpenOffice not as powerful as Microsoft Office for some things
  • Fewer regular employees are “techy” enough to solve their own issues (and their peers’) when they arise.

In the Server Room

Linux excels in the server room, there’s no doubt about it. For most Internet-related services, it’s faster, cheaper, and more efficient than its commercial counterparts. Still, with all its many benefits, there are some drawbacks.

From an implementation standpoint, one of the biggest stumbling blocks is that Linux system administrators generally cost more. In the world of supply and demand, people with Linux skills are sought after, and usually fetch a bigger paycheck. Licensing costs are usually the financial offset for more expensive salaries, but it can be sticker shock for a company trying to save money by switching their server rooms to Linux. The question really becomes, would you rather spend money on skilled people or complex licenses? The former gets you flexibility and a less expensive avenue for growth, whereas the latter keeps you locked into licensing agreements and potentially less skilled system administrators. Still, there are cons to running Linux in the server room:


  • Cost for licensing (or lack thereof)
  • Software audits are a breeze
  • Growth doesn’t increase license costs
  • Requires less powerful hardware
  • Can often seamlessly integrate into a Windows environment, especially for internet services
  • Less vulnerable to viruses and malware
  • Encourages cross-platform solutions, especially web-based solutions


  • Does not replace Active Directory server (OpenLDAP can do authentication, but not workstation management)
  • Linux system administrators generally cost more
  • Can’t run server-side programs specifically designed for Windows (SharePoint, etc)
  • MySQL/PostgreSQL are not as powerful as Microsoft SQL server (must determine needs)

The Good News

If you read any of the cons above and assumed Linux won’t work in your situation, thankfully that might not be the case. Switching to Linux doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. Most server rooms I’ve worked in host a combination of Linux, Windows, and OSX servers. Linux may not be the perfect solution for every one of your needs, but it’s very likely a great solution for at least a few. I always recommend that individuals new to Linux install a web server to test the water. Linux web servers are extremely common, and are a great way to begin a hybrid integration of platforms.

As a long time Linux system administrator, I can’t deny that I’m biased toward Open Source solutions. That said, I think a pragmatic approach to integrating Linux is the way to go. If you work in a Windows based environment, it might be worth asking your system administrator if he or she is using Linux on any of the servers. You might be surprised to find you’re already using Linux, and you never even knew!

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