While Microsoft sells literally hundreds of products, services, and licenses, most people are primarily familiar with two families of Microsoft products: Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office 365.  Even these two families of products contain many subproducts and variations, though most of us only use a few of them, like Microsoft Windows 11, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Outlook.  A number of people have begun to ask: Are there alternatives to Microsoft products? 

There are a number of reasons people look for alternatives to Microsoft – some don’t like paying monthly or yearly subscription fees for Microsoft 365, some don’t like the constant updates and security patches that Windows needs, and others would just like to move away from Big Tech altogether.  These are all legitimate thoughts, and there are other reasons to look elsewhere as well, the primary one being security. 

Apart from moving to Apple products, which would still be in the family of Big Tech (and keep you tied to Microsoft, as most Mac users still use Microsoft Office products on the Mac), there is an alternative in the Linux operating system and related software.  Linux is more stable and is more secure than Microsoft Windows.  Linux desktops and servers require far fewer reboots than do Windows machines (though Microsoft has closed the gap somewhat, especially with servers).  Best of all, because Linux is published under the GNU license, there is no cost to run the operating system, or any of the related software that is also available under the GNU license.  Yes, that is correct: you can run Linux and its related software without buying anything or paying any subscription fees. 

Sounds great!  However, there are some drawbacks.  Linux does take more time to set up and configure than Windows.  A higher level of technical skill is also required to properly configure the operating system, and when you need to install hardware or software, you will need someone familiar with Linux to do the installation.  It is far, far easier to find technicians who work with Microsoft products than it is with Linux, particularly for small and medium businesses.  More work is also required when transferring data from Linux to Windows; in practical terms, most businesses can send a Word document to clients or customers with the expectation that the client can easily access it, but with Linux products (like LibreOffice), this can be a bit more tricky.  Finally, most commercially available off-the-shelf software is developed for Windows, and not for Linux.  If you run accounting software (like QuickBooks), line-of-business software in the medical or legal industry, or software running your assembly line in a production plant, you are going to be limited to Windows-based software.  For all of these reasons, the low upfront cost of the Linux operating system (zero) is offset by the higher cost of support and maintenance. 

On the other hand, Microsoft really does some things well.  The Microsoft email system (Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, both included in Microsoft 365) is a best-in-class email product group that, for the most part, just works.  Microsoft Word and Excel are easy to use, easy to support, and, because they are widely used, allow for simple transfer of documents or spreadsheets to other people (like clients).  Microsoft Windows, for all its flaws, is fairly intuitive for most people and is supported by most software vendors.  Businesses can also much more easily find support for Windows than for Linux.   

Linux is a great product, and there are times and places when it is a good choice (reach out if you have questions; we like Linux and are happy to support it!)  However, the reality is that the bottom line cost of Microsoft is likely less than the cost of running Linux in most situations.  This, along with the ease of use and simplicity of finding software and support, make Microsoft products a better fit for most small and medium businesses.