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The Time Is Right For Desktop Linux, Says Report

Open source desktops haven’t been a hit so far, but the recession, virtualisation, and the failure of Vista could change all that, analysts say

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The economic downturn, the imminent release of Windows 7, the maturation of open source applications and the rise of thin clients have combined to create the right conditions for companies to take another look at the potential of the Linux desktop, according to analysts.

In a report released this month, analyst Freeform Dynamics has said that the time is right for businesses to reconsider their preconceptions about using Linux on the desktop. The survey, Linux on the Desktop Lessons From Mainstream Business Adoption, examines existing attitudes to community developed software from businesses across the UK, US and other territories.

The report points to the problems Microsoft faced with Windows Vista as a contributing factor to businesses looking for alternatives to Windows. “A few things have happened that have made the desktop Linux debate more relevant. Microsoft’s false start with Vista led to a degree of disillusionment with the relentless Windows upgrade spiral,” the report states.

Among other things, Microsoft’s own problems with upgrading Windows users have led to an XP-compatibility mode, similar to the virtualisation-based compatibility tools that help Linux users run Windows programs. It’s been argued that this will make the move to Linux as smooth as that to Windows 7.

Other reasons why companies should re-think their stance on desktop Linux include a “more centralised approach to desktop delivery via various virtualisation and/or cloud computing options” and the “gradual creep of the Apple Mac into the enterprise” plus the “general backdrop of the economic downturn”, the report states.

However the 1200-plus IT professionals questioned in the survey revealed that despite a lot of drum-beating from the open source community over the years, Linux has so far largely failed to make much of an impact on the desktop despite its large share of the enterprise server market.

“The majority of desktop Linux adopters have only rolled out to less than 20 percent of their total PC user base at the moment, though the opportunity for more extensive deployment is clearly identified. In order for Linux to reach its full potential in an organisation, however, it is necessary to pay particular attention to challenges in the areas of targeting, user acceptance and application compatibility,” the report states.

For those companies that have adopted Linux on the desktop, over 70 percent attributed the move to trying to save costs. “Ease of securing the desktop and a general lowering of overheads associated with maintenance and support were cited as factors contributing to the benefit,” the report said.

The rise of the netbook – the first models of which exclusively ran Linux – was seen by many industry commentators as a way for the open source operating system to crack Microsoft’s hold on the desktop. But Microsoft has been quick to respond to the threat and has made Windows XP a popular choice for netbooks while also developing its Windows 7 system to run on the mini notebooks.

Microsoft recently claimed that Windows runs on 96 percent of netbooks and that Linux netbooks had a high-return rate at retailers.

However some commentators claim that the battle between Linux and Windows for control of the desktop becoming irrelevant as more and more applications move to the web making the desktop OS largely commoditised and no longer as important as it once was (see our interview with .Opera’s Jon von Tetzchner, for instance).