Linux faithful still see OS on desktop
By Rick Perera
(IDG) -- 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 cancelled an offer for Linux-enabled desktop and laptop machines.
But attendees at the just-concluded Frankfurt, Germany, Linux World Conference and Expo refused to give up. Ask a random sample, and you'd find about half saying 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 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' Open Office, an open-source version of its desktop software suite StarOffice, Ximian'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 percent 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 persuade 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 says IDC figures show Linux has about 4 percent of the desktop market -- which compares favorably with the 5 percent to 6 percent enjoyed by Apple Computer'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 Schroder, CEO of open-source software provider Gonicus GmbH.
Too many organizations already using Linux keep quiet about it "because it seems too complicated to explain," he said. "I think if more institutions go public with their use of Linux and open-source and say, 'O.K., we're using it, and it works,' that will help increase trust."
Many Linux advocates point to the operating system's better security record than its archrival, Microsoft Windows. But a Microsoft executive rejected the accusation.
Last year, Microsoft issued 100 security bulletins for its entire product line, whereas there were 137 security bulletins for Red Hat's Linux code base alone, said Microsoft executive Norman Heydenreich.
"There's no objective reality that Windows is more vulnerable to security breaches," he said, adding that Microsoft is making security issues a top priority in future developments.
Schroder refused to accept the Microsoft argument, however. A higher number of Linux-related security bulletins simply points to the large developer community examining the source code and checking for problems, he said.
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