In the wake of a bit of negative feedback and press, some small and mid-sized business leaders are understandably reluctant to move to upgrade to what Microsoft calls its “next logical step,” the latest version of its popular Windows operating system software, Windows Vista. The reports have raised concerns about incompatibilities with existing software, lack of drivers for existing hardware, and confusion for employees. As a result, some businesses are opting to stay with the last version, Windows XP, or find alternatives.

The trouble with staying put with XP is that Microsoft has a reputation for eventually forcing users to migrate to the newest edition of its software. Windows XP will continue to be supported by Microsoft for only a few years. All versions of Windows XP will receive free security patches as well as non-security related updates, but only until April 2009. After that, they will receive security related patches only, until April 2014 when they stop supporting XP completely.

So the pressure is for small and mid-sized businesses to make a choice. While some may decide to stay with XP and switch to Vista only when they buy new machines, others feel that simply sitting still just isn't an appropriate plan for the future. The new Intel-based family of Mac computers is an attractive alternative for home computer users, but ultimately there are simply too many PC-specific needs in the business realm, at least at the enterprise level.

Decisions, decisions

“You have to live in this world as it exists,” says Richard Giroux, IT Manager at Whitelaw Twining Law Corp. of Vancouver, B.C. “but sometimes you get to choose alternatives. Deciding not to upgrade to Windows Vista was one of those times.”

Last year, Giroux moved all the desktops in Whitelaw Twining Law, more than 40 workstations, away from Microsoft to Novell Linux Desktop and SUSE Linux. The firm is planning to bring all the laptops over to Linux as well later this year. Just in operating system (OS) licenses alone, he figures Whitelaw Twining has saved between $10,000 and $15,000.

“And that's not counting the amount of time it used to take for Windows maintenance on each desktop," Giroux says. "Updates, patches, virus, and spyware problems, it was a never-ending treadmill. Now? Hardly any, almost none. Some desktops now running Linux I haven't touched in a year.”

For the most part, Windows users don't have to give up their preferred software to move to Linux. Giroux says the firm still uses a few Windows proprietary apps, but using Wine (an Open Source Windows emulator) on Linux to deal with it does the trick.

Linux has often been considered too “geeky” for the average desktop user, but that's no longer true. Some Linux distributions have been crafted specifically for Windows users seeking an alternative. Xandros Linux is one of the easiest desktop systems to make the Windows-to-Linux cross-over. So easy, in fact, that Xandros was the company chosen by AsusTek Computer to build an operating system for it’s highly regarded Eee PC. The tiny ground-breaking laptops run a customized OEM version of Xandros.

“Xandros Linux was created just for this purpose, to be an alternative choice that just works,” says Steven Harris, vice president of communications at Xandros. “Xandros Desktop works as well as any Microsoft based system in a Windows-centric environment. And while Xandros comes with loads of productivity tools like OpenOffice, most Windows specific applications, like Microsoft Office, will easily run on Xandros Linux as well.”

Windows replacements

Novell SUSE and Xandros aren't the only potential replacements for Microsoft Windows. Some other excellent alternatives to Windows Vista -- but by no means all -- include PCLinuxOS, MEPIS, Linspire, openSUSE, Fedora, Mandriva, CentOS, Ubuntu and more. Probably the best place to begin your search through potential Linux versions is, a website devoted to listing all the different Linux distros. You can find these and more at Distrowatch, as well as links to all webpages relevant to each, including reviews and community sites, both excellent resources to help make that important decision.

“Linux has proven to be rock solid, with no need for retraining staff. No one here has ever had a problem working with this OS, it takes no more than 10 minutes training to set someone up on one of our desktops,” says Giroux. “Linux works just like Vista, only without the pain.”