True believers still see Linux on desktop

Linux evangelists are keeping the faith, even when it comes to the elusive Holy Grail of the open-source operating system: taking a significant chunk of the desktop market.

The news has not been good since this time last year. Companies seeking to make a profit from desktop applications have closed or spun off their Linux operations, and big-name backer Dell Computer Corp. cancelled an offer for Linux-enabled desktop and laptop machines.

But attendees at the Frankfurt Linux World Conference and Expo refuse to give up. Ask a random sample, and you’ll find about half say they use Linux on their own home or office machines, and would recommend it to others. These people are, of course, the hard core – can Linux for the desktop still catch on in the wider world?

Absolutely, said Linux consultant Peter Ganten.

“Four or five years ago, people were writing that Linux had no chance as an operating system at all; two or three years ago they said it had no chance on the desktop,” he said. But the fact that the subject is getting more attention and criticism today, he continued, is simply because Linux is getting a higher profile. “Everybody knows what Linux is nowadays.”

“There’s no indication that Linux as a desktop system has no chance medium- to long-term,” he added.

Bruce Perens, a longtime Linux developer currently on staff at Hewlett-Packard Co. as the company’s senior open source and Linux strategist, said the pieces are only just falling into place for Linux to compete successfully in the desktop market.

Thanks to products like Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Open Office, an open source version of its desktop software suite StarOffice; Ximian Inc.’s e-mail management software Evolution; and the open-source Web browser Mozilla, the average home or office user has just about everything he or she could need for desktop use, Perens said.

“We can satisfy maybe 80 per cent of users and not make them upgrade every two years,” he said, referring to Microsoft’s regular updates to its Windows products. “We have a good chance.”

Ganten said it will take time, and more user-friendly applications, to convince non-techies to consider making the switch.

“The desktop market moves a lot more slowly than the server market,” where Linux has already captured a large share, he said. “You have to get a lot of non-IT experts used to a new system.”

He pointed to some promising statistics: Ten percent of all PC users who are considering acquiring or setting up a new machine, whether privately or professionally, plan to use Linux, according to a study carried out by the German opinion-survey organization TNS Emnid on behalf of Linux vendor SuSE Linux AG.

Similarly, he said, International Data Corp. figures show that Linux has about four per cent of the desktop market – which compares favorably with the five per cent to six per cent enjoyed by Apple Computer Inc.’s Macintosh OS.

Users in private companies and small businesses would be more likely to give Linux a chance if they knew how many companies are already using Linux for some functions, said Alfred Schr

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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