The Mac OS X option
Of the plausible alternatives to Windows, Apple's Mac OS X has the largest market share and history. InfoWorld chief technologist Tom Yager has written that the latest version of the Mac OS, Leopard (10.5), is simply the best operating system available. And Macs are indeed popping up more frequently even within IT circles -- I've seen more MacBook Pros in the hands of CTOs and IT execs at conferences in the past year more than ever before. Although there are no real numbers on just the business adoption of Macs, it's clear that Apple is in growth mode, gaining an increasing proportion of all new computer sales for more than a year now.
Many businesses have already adopted the Mac as a standard platform, discovering that the hardware is typically better designed than equivalent Windows systems for the same price, that security risks are lower, and that there are more enterprise-quality management tools than they expected. InfoWorld has chronicled how to make the switch to Mac OS X.
The drive for Mac adoption often comes from users, not IT. InfoWorld's Yager has chronicled the adventures of one PC user who switched to the Mac OS, showing that for an individual, the conversion was ultimately a rewarding one.
A key tool for any Mac OS X switcher is a virtual machine to run Windows for those apps and Web sites that require it. Both Parallels Desktop 3.0 and VMware's Fusion software will do the trick, as InfoWorld's comparative review has shown.
Although Macs are compatible with most typical hardware, such as monitors and drives, fitting a Mac into an enterprise's management systems and ERP applications can be a different story. Yager's Enterprise Mac blog and the Mac Enterprise user group both provide advice on managing Macs in a traditional IT environment.
The Linux option
The more technically inclined may be attracted to Linux, the most popular form of desktop Unix. Linux desktops typically are challenged by limited hardware compatibility (due to lack of drivers), limited application options, and user interfaces that require active participation to get work done, which tends to keep Linux away from the general user population. Still, it's possible to do, and InfoWorld has chronicled how to make the switch to Linux.
But those who work with a Linux server all day may find that using it on the desktop as well actually makes their lives easier.