How Serious Is AT&T About the Linux Desktop?

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2004-10-08

How Serious Is AT&T About the Linux Desktop?

According to AT&T CIO Hossein Eslambolchi, the telecommunications giant is considering Linux or the Mac to replace its Windows desktops. Or is it?

Is AT&T, as one report had it, looking to "throw Windows out?" No, not according to AT&T spokesman Michael Dickman.

"The bottom line is that Eslambolchi has set up a team to evaluate multiple desktop platforms," Dickman said. "Yes, today, Windows has security problems, but Eslambolchi is looking for desktops two to three years down the road, and if Linux becomes popular and hackers pay attention to it, whos to say the Linux desktop wont have its own security problems?"

AT&T is not so much "looking beyond Windows, but looking at all the options," Dickman said, adding that todays CIOs have many more choices available.

"Its just like in telecom where there used to only be AT&T, but then in the 80s MCI and Sprint gave enterprises more choices," he said. "Eslambolchi is looking at all the options including Linux, Apple and Windows."

But how serious is AT&T about looking at "all the options?" And how serious should it, or any other enterprise, be?

Microsoft sees the open-source threat looming ever larger. Read about it here.

Bill Claybrook, president of New River Marketing Research, said he still has doubts about Linux as a Windows desktop replacement.

"My feeling is that if enterprises are going to switch from Windows to Linux, now is a good time to start thinking about it," Claybrook said.

"However, Linux desktop vendors still do not have enough software that enterprises use to warrant most firms switching to Linux, except in certain areas of a company where only e-mail is required, or only word processing is required, etc.," he said.

Dan Kusnetzky, vice president for system software research at IDC, agreed. "Linux is still a very minor player on the desktop. One of the places it would play very well is a platform for Web-based applications or as a platform to access the Web or e-mail."

Of course, "Linux desktops are less expensive, but so much of the software that enterprises use is tied to Windows," Claybrook said. "One customer told me that they had several thousand applications built around IE. They are not likely to switch."

Next Page: Pilot Tests May Bring Microsoft to the Table

Pilot Tests May Bring

Microsoft to the Table">

Stacey Quandt, senior business analyst at the Robert Francis Group, said, "AT&Ts evaluation of Linux, Mac OS X and Windows is appropriate; however, it does not signify that the company is actively seeking an alternative to a Windows desktop. CIOs should have a process to assess technologies on a continuous basis. Given persistent issues with security, reliability and total cost of ownership, AT&T is acting responsibly."

Laura DiDio, Yankee Group senior analyst, also believes that AT&Ts interest in Linux doesnt mean the company is actively seeking to replace Windows. Instead, "I think that the news that AT&T is pilot-testing Linux and performing due diligence on Linux versus Windows costs is part ploy to bring Microsoft to the negotiating table."

This is meant "to get better licensing T&Cs [terms and conditions], and partially a serious, valid attempt to examine the potential business benefits and cost savings the company might potentially derive from migration to Linux," DiDio said.

"Certainly, the economic downturn of the past three years has created more of a buyers market. Corporate customers and vendors are aware of this. I dont know of very many enterprises that do not have a Linux pilot network in place and that are not at least investigating the pros and cons of a Linux deployment. Thats just good business sense," she said.

Click here to read about reverse migrations from Linux to Windows.

But "companies like AT&T need a very compelling reason to move," DiDio said. "So far, AT&T has not definitively said it will move, just that it is testing Linux and that it wont make any decision until the end of 2005. I would expect Microsoft executives to do their level best to persuade AT&T to stick with Windows."

In this buyers market, the analysts agree that many companies are looking at Linux for the desktop, not for its own sake but to use it as a threat to win a better deal from Microsoft. It is a trend that they expect to grow as Linux matures as a desktop environment.

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