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It's getting so you can't read the online news without stumbling over some new item about Linux and business. This business supports Linux, that business is developing for Linux, the other business has figured a way to make money with Linux.

Business? Business is easy to deal with. You should see or hear of the disputes that take place in a home when one sibling claims to need the computer another is 'hogging'. Or when one claims the other has messed up the desktop, removed programs, or added something that alters all the associations in Windows. Or when there are comparisons about who always gets the faster computer, in cases where there are more than one.

Sharing a Linux box eases each of those situations with the free software that comes with every distribution. Each user has a home directory and a separate desktop. Swapping from one to another is just a 3-key command; there's no need to log out and log in as a different user. Work (or play) in progress is only paused, not totally disrupted. It doesn't take long to get used to the stability. Installation of software does not disturb another user's desktop. And if the 'his computer is faster' argument comes up, exporting displays and directories takes care of it.

Let's set up a hypothetical 4 user home network, over a reasonable time, with a limited budget. Our target is to keep it at or under $2500. Sound like a real-world situation? Starting with a single, decent computer for around $1000, including monitor. It probably won't be the greatest game machine in the world, but it should satisfy everybody but the most hard-core Quake3 frame-rate junky. Add about $100 for a good uninterruptable power supply (which far too many people neglect).

Now, before it starts filling that 13 G to 18 G hard drive up, install Linux. Put another $90 in it for VMWare and $80 to bump the RAM to 128 MB. This gives us enough RAM to keep X nice and snappy while providing Windows running within a virtual machine with the same amount. It cuts out the need to dual boot, which would disrupt everything and everybody. Everybody has their own home directory for storing their stuff, plus their own desktop, cluttered or clear as they choose. We're at $1270 now.

Naturally, there will still be disputes because there will be lots of times when more than one person wants to use the computer at the same time. This is when expansion starts. Add a monitor for about $150, and a decent used or barebones computer for about $200. We're not looking for piles of software on this new machine, nor lots of storage or extras. Toss in a couple of network cards at about $25 each (you can get them for about half that, but I'm suspicious), and a 5-port hub for about $80. Cables, about $10 to $20. Now we have a two-computer network for about $1760. It cuts those disputes at least in half, probably even less. A third computer may be added for about $375, using the figures from above. At this point, disputes over time will essentially vanish. The price tag so far is $2135 for our 3 computer network. Add an inkjet printer to the original machine for about $100. Add a flatbed scanner to it for about the same. We're at $2335, still nicely under budget. Put a very good modem in any one of the machines for another $130.

Linux is running on each computer (you could add in the cost of a single $2 cheap CD plus shipping, to be copied from one machine to the other). Windows is running in a virtual machine on the fastest computer. Each computer has access to resources of the other via Samba or NFS, for example. Each is capable of running a home website with ease. Each machine has access to the Internet via the one good modem. The 2 workstations could even be diskless, but at $200 each, probably have some kind of hard drive and CD drive.

What can you do on this less-than-$2500 network? Some samples: software development tools (lots of programming languages can be learned or dabbled with, from C to Python), web authoring tools, editors, word processors, image creation and manipulation, scanning, printing, Internet 'surfing', email (both Internet and home), games from xbill to FreeCiv, music from CD to mp3, avi or other 'multimedia' stuff, extensive and complete documentation from the kernel source to the Coffee-HOWTO and lots and lots of tutorials, selection of at least a couple of business quality databases, heavy-duty spreadsheets. There's lots more; the wealth and breadth of free software changes by the minute and it's hard to keep track of its extent.

Now, the challenge is, set up a Windows network with equivalent capabilities for less than $2500. Use the same hardware price assumptions but do not violate any licenses (I didn't, in the above). Be sure to include goodies such as a webserver, programming languages (kids seem to be fascinated with their programmed control of the machine), sharing of the Internet connection, image manipulation equivalent to Gimp's (you'll need Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro to match it), word processing beyond Wordpad, editors not as limited as Notepad, don't include shareware games without the license price or it's a violation beyond the usual test period, WinAmp would do for the sound, a database tough enough for business use (somebody always needs to work at home), likewise for the spreadsheets, but I don't know what it's going to cost you to provide all the little network services equivalent to NFS, telnet (no, that thing that comes with Win9x doesn't compare to telnet in Linux), ftp (same complaint as for the Win9x built-in telnet), network talk, intranet email and other 'little' network services that make the whole thing feel like a system instead of three isolated computers that happen to be connected.

Here's something concerning a larger network, that's still applicable to our hypothetical home network:

Jimmy the Geek in a Linux Today talkback, concerning SpecWebb benchmark results and someone's suggestion to give the same resources to Win2K group and Linux group and see how they fare:

Don't forget to pay for the licenses Lets both assume that we are setting up a server to give file, print, mail and web services to 25 people and we have a budget of $5000 to do so.

With Windows you just spent $4000 on the Licenses. You now have $1000 to buy the hardware.

With Linux you spend $2 for a CDROM from cheap bytes, leaving $4998 for the hardware.