LinuxWorld: Clients waver, Linux waits

Linux is ready for the desktop but enterprises aren’t quite ready for Linux, some industry insiders say.

It’s hard for most companies to make a business case to ditch Microsoft Windows in favour of the open source operating system (OS), according to Chris Gulker, Acrobat product manager at Adobe Inc. in San Jose, Calif. While the Linux desktop is stable, secure and capable, corporations aren’t exactly deploying it in droves, he said.

In that respect, he said, Linux resembles Apple Computer Inc.’s MAC OS X – another capable desktop OS that does not enjoy widespread corporate adoption.

The main reason, Gulker said, is people.

He said the majority of users and IT staff are trained on the Windows platform, so a sudden migration to Linux without a sufficient pool of IT workers, would drive up costs.

Companies stick with what they know and what users are comfortable with, Gulker said. “Microsoft may not be the greatest business partner, by hey, it works.”

Gulker noted that the adoption of any new technology always causes some productivity loss, and CIOs fear the loss would be too great. “Large corporations fear lost productivity even more than they like low costs.”

For instance, he said, when firms upgraded their desktops from Windows 95 to Windows 98 there were just enough changes to trip up the average user. Losing a week’s worth of productivity is enough to wreck a large company’s quarterly financial numbers, Gulker said.

According to the Adobe product manager, the best time for a company to migrate to Linux on the desktop is when it is thinking about upgrading to the Windows version. It’s just about as much work to migrate to the Windows edition as it is to move over to Linux, he said

He cited the example of Siemens Business Group, in Munich, Germany that migrated to the Linux Gnome desktop with the Evolution e-mail client and

It found that the time required for user training was the same as for a major Windows and Office upgrade: two days – one day for the OS and one for the office suite. Overall, Siemens saved between 20 to 30 per cent on administrative costs, 50 per cent on hardware and 80 per cent on licensing.

He said Linux desktop migrations resemble major Windows upgrades in yet another way – both tend to require hardware upgrades as well. This allows companies to extend the life of their desktop PCs for one or two more years, Gulker said.

There is still work to be done for the Linux desktop, he said, adding that Linux desktop vendors need to reduce the number of arbitrary changes between versions, offer better support for peripheral and mobile devices, and provide better help manuals.

One firm that’s looking at Linux very seriously is Canadian Tire Financial Services Inc. in Welland, Ont. The company is rolling out its first Linux pilot: SUSE Enterprise Linux (SLES) 9 from Novell Inc. running on a blade server. It is in the process of hammering out a Linux strategy and is meeting with IBM Corp. next week in Austin, Tex. to get advice on its open source plans.

Canadian Tire Financial is testing Linux is to see if it helps them derive any cost savings, according to Troy Michaud, the company’s senior infrastructure planner.

According to Michaud, so far the Linux pilot has yielded only marginal savings on hardware – and licensing and support costs are similar to other platforms. He said hardware costs less because Linux can run on any hardware platform, doesn’t lock you into a proprietary box, and blade servers are very cost-effective.

Michaud is also investigating desktop Linux and whether it would enable Canadian Tire Financial trim more costs. Canadian Tire Financial has about 1,500 desktop users.

A home user of the Linux desktop for years, Michaud said he doesn’t need convincing that Linux is a good desktop OS. The challenge, he said, is to have a solid business case. “We need to make sure it works with all areas of the business.”

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