Linux for Stock Trading?
The main obstacle is lack of stock trading software and technical analysis tools like MetaStock, TradeStation, eSignal and Quotetracker that can run natively on Linux. Most trading software developers view the demand from Linux users as too insignificant to write and support Linux versions of their software. Some diehard Linux traders have managed to run their favorite software like Quotetracker and Sierra Charts in Linux, but they had to jump through hoops to do it and not everyone is so technically inclined. You can run certain Windows programs in Linux by using WINE, a sort of windows emulator although it's name is actually an acronym for Wine Is Not a windows Emulator (WINE). Performance however, takes a big hit and the whole "running a Windows program in WINE" experience feels very clunky. Why run Windows programs in an emulator when you can run them natively in XP, Vista or Windows 7?
However, the exception to this are some Java based trading applications like Interactive Broker's TWS trading platform which runs well on Ubuntu 32 and 64-bit systems. IB Charts also run well although you have to make sure the latest Java version from Sun is installed and not an open source version like IcedTea (now known as OpenJDK) which is found in Ubuntu's software repositories.
Using Virtualization to run Windows on Linux
There are other traders who try to use programs such as VMWare and VirtualBox to create virtual images of their Windows trading machines and run them on a Linux box. This solution is workable, but performance will still be slower as compared to running natively in Windows. Also, support for multi-monitors and other hardware driver issues can make this experience very painful and distracting for a full-time stock trader.
Advantages of using Linux
Linux has many advantages, the best being that most Linux distros are not very resource hungry and will run effectively on even modest systems, based on today's standards, like an old Pentium 4 1.8GHz with only 512MB RAM. Install Ubuntu Natty Narwhal 64-bit on the latest PCs, like the day trader's favorite Dell Precision T3500, and see the system scream with performance. Some distros like Puppy Linux have such a small footprint (<100MB) such that they can be run entirely from RAM and take only about 30-40 secs to boot up. Trying out Linux distros is very easy as most installation disks include a LiveCD which allows you to run that distro entirely from DVD-ROM or flash drive before installing it on your system.
Linux is an excellent operating system and this article is in no way trying to put Linux down as an OS. When it comes to using it for stock trading, traders should for the time being, stick with good old Microsoft Windows. At the end of the day, the OS is but a tool in order for the trader to make money from the stock markets and using Linux will tend to distract rather than aid the trader in his primary goal. Not until Linux can natively run some of the best technical analysis software like MetaStock, TradeStation, Ninjatrader and Quotetracker, can it be recommended for stock trading.