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The biggest advantage of deploying Linux virtual desktops centers on licensing. Open source VDI allows organizations to reduce or eliminate their Microsoft VDI licensing expenditures.
Microsoft is notorious for making Windows licensing in a VDI environment costly and complex. VDI providers cannot, for example, run multiple VMs on a single host unless they're all for the same customer, negating many of the advantages of multi-tenancy.
Vendors have gotten around some of Microsoft's restrictions by offering a skinned version of Windows Server. For its part, Microsoft made a few concessions for its Software Assurance customers, shifting to a per-user licensing model, which lowers the cost of employees accessing virtual desktops on multiple devices.
That model is only available to organizations with 250 or more users, though, so small and medium-sized businesses might want to explore other avenues, such as open source VDI, to reduce licensing costs. Linux is free and simple to manage, at least from a licensing perspective.
Linux's open source nature is an important advantage. With an open source project, software engineers from around the globe contribute their expertise and experience to improving the software, without the marketing agendas that often come with proprietary products such as Windows. There are a plethora of Linux distributions out there, so it's a more customizable operating system than Windows. Linux also works well for computer-aided design, 3D rendering, video editing and other resource-intensive apps.
That's not to say Linux is a perfect fit in all situations. It doesn't provide the type of support that comes with Windows, and not all Linux distributions are built the same. In addition, switching virtual desktop users to a new environment is never an easy task.
The greatest challenge with Linux is figuring out what to do about all those Windows-based programs that VDI users access on a daily basis. In some cases, organizations can make the transition to Linux virtual desktops without too much pain. For other companies, it makes more sense to have two VDI platforms and run Windows and Linux, but that might also double IT's VDI support workload.
The big unknown in all this, of course, is the future of desktop computing as we know it. As we move to a mobile-first world and some organizations become less dependent on Windows applications, Microsoft might reduce its VDI licensing fees. On the flip side, Linux VDI might become a more attractive option in the future for companies that no longer require any Windows apps.
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