If you can afford to be flexible, however, the desktop Linux market includes a number of lesser-known options -- including Linspire, Mandriva, Ubuntu, and Xandros, among others -- that specialize in delivering a high-quality user experience and are similarly backed by commercial support. The exact best fit will largely be a matter of personal taste.
Will it run with Linux?
One way Linux distributions distinguish themselves is through ease of installation and configuration on a variety of hardware. Overall, hardware support in modern Linux systems is very good and continues to improve. In fact, Linux may actually offer better support for some legacy hardware than newer proprietary operating systems such as Windows Vista.
Occasionally, though, a particular hardware vendor may be reluctant to release specifications or Linux drivers, leaving you with limited or no support under Linux. Typical trouble areas include certain graphics cards and wireless networking hardware, as well as laptop power-management features such as suspend and hibernate.
Remember, also, to consider hardware beyond the PC itself. If your organization makes use of networked printers, scanners, fax servers, VPN gateways, or other workgroup-centered hardware, you'll need to make sure that Linux drivers are available for these devices, too. Your Linux vendor should be able to answer any questions, but be prepared for occasional bad news.
Inconsistent hardware support can make deploying Linux on a wide scale a challenge. Unfortunately, you can't expect any single Linux distribution to behave identically on every PC. Some hardware configurations will always exhibit quirks or glitches that aren't present on others.
Standardizing hardware is your best chance for a smooth installation experience, but this isn't always easy. Even if you identify an ideal PC configuration today, will you still be able to purchase the same machine next year, when your company grows?
Fortunately, an increasing number of hardware vendors are offering systems that are certified for use with Linux, or even ship with Linux pre-installed. Dell offers several Ubuntu Linux systems, for example, while HP and Lenovo favor Suse. If you can purchase Linux-certified hardware consistently, it can save you a lot of headaches in the long run.
Linux: It's the applications, stupid
A Linux desktop is more than just the OS. Before you start migrating users to Linux, you'll need to make sure that you can provide software to support all of your organization's essential business functions -- and, most likely, a few you never considered.