Linux on the Desktop

Intel NUC Computer

We’ve recently completed a project which involved replacing all of our old Windows 7 computers with shiny, new Linux machines. There were a few small hiccups along the way, but it went fairly smoothly.

We needed to kick out Windows 7 because Microsoft had announced that they were going to stop supplying security updates in January. We looked carefully at the main options, which were Windows 10 and Linux. We use Linux on our servers but most of our staff have never used it so they would have found Windows 10 easier.

Microsoft Windows has dominated the desktop PC market for decades. NetMarketShare analyses the desktop and laptop computers used for browsing the internet. In January, 88% of these sessions were from Windows, 10% from Apple’s MacOS and just 1.5% from Linux. As a result of this dominance, nearly everyone is familiar with Windows. There are also lots of programs that are designed only to work on Windows, which makes it harder to switch to a different operating system. On the other hand, a lot of viruses and other malware are also designed only to work on Windows.

Windows computers regularly send Microsoft information about how your computer is being used. This is called ‘telemetry’. The Dutch Government analysed the data and made a number of recommendations to ensure compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The recommendations included either setting telemetry to the “Security” level or having telemetry traffic blocked. The “Security” level of telemetry is only available on the Enterprise or Education Editions of Windows 10. If you have the Home or Pro editions, you won’t have that option, but it should be possible to block the traffic using a firewall, if strict GDPR compliance is important to you.

Having considered the options, we eventually decided on Linux. We bought some very small Intel NUC computers, which don’t take up much desk space. There are many different Linux distributions (known as flavours), so we had to pick one. After taking some advice from a Linux consultant, we chose CentOS, version 8. I didn’t like the way the desktop worked, so we swapped that component for an XFCE desktop. For word processing and spreadsheets, we use LibreOffice. It does pretty much everything Microsoft Office does, although it doesn’t work exactly the same way. For example, Microsoft Excel lets you cut and paste a row of cells without leaving empty cells behind. In LibreOffice, you can achieve the same result using the mouse, but it isn’t quite as easy. Most of the other programs we used were either available for Linux, or could be replaced by a similar program that was available. In fact, it hasn’t taken long for us all to adapt to these little changes.

As well as our new Linux workstations and our Linux servers, we have other machines for specific purposes. One of these computers has Windows 10 Enterprise Edition and we use it for testing how our online payroll system works with Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer. We haven’t completely eradicated Microsoft Windows from our company, but we certainly use it less.

Steven Tucker

By Steven Tucker - Co-founder

Steven is one of the founders of The Payroll Site. He writes about things affecting small businesses, especially those things connected with payroll. He's also a Maths graduate and a Chartered IT Professional and has a few views about technology, maths and the misuse of both.