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Desktop Linux for small business

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Is your business ready to take the open source plunge? We test five leading desktop Linux distributions and come up with one winner.

As desktop Linux becomes ever more professional, and with Microsoft still a year away from shipping its new Vista version of Windows, could now be the time to go open-source on the desktop? Of course, circumstances will vary from company to company, but if you're ready to make the move, there's a good crop of Linux distributions ready to accommodate your needs.

We set ourselves the task of installing and configuring various desktop and notebook systems with five of the leading Linux distributions: Mandriva Linux 2006, Novell Linux Desktop 9, Red Hat Desktop 4, SUSE Linux 10 and Ubuntu Linux 5.1. We then attempted to implement some basic business tools for each distro: connect an email client to Microsoft's Exchange server; print on a networked printer; and set up instant messaging.

For each Linux distribution, we noted the smoothness of the install process, the abundance and integration of application software, and the depth of the support offering. Along the way, we got a feel for each distro's stability, and how it would feel to do real work with it.

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