SAN FRANCISCO—Windows Vista has probably created the single biggest opportunity for the Linux desktop to take market share, Cole Crawford, an IT strategist at Dell, said in an address titled, "The Linux Desktop—Fact, FUD or Fantasy?" at the annual LinuxWorld Conference & Expo here.
For example, a number of companies have moved back to Windows XP after deploying Vista, Crawford said, before quoting Scott Granneman, an author, entrepreneur and adjunct professor at Washington University in St. Louis, as saying, "To mess up a Linux box, you need to work at it; to mess up your Windows box, you just have to work on it."
Microsoft has also owned the desktop for more than 15 years, Crawford said, "and so the only way for them to go is down. But Linux can only go up, and its growth potential is enormous. While Linux only has 1 percent of share on the desktop versus Microsofts more than 90 percent, that is changing, and the Linux desktop is expected to gain some share over the next two years," he said.
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The number of developers targeting Windows decreased by 12 percent in the last year, while their targeting of Linux has increased by 34 percent over the same period, recently released information from Evans Data shows, Crawford said.
The interoperability agreements that Microsoft has signed with Linux vendors, from Novell to Xandros and Linspire, have also had largely positive results so far, he said, adding that another plus was the fact that Linux development has shifted to a model in which a significant portion of the kernel is being developed by corporate entities.
On the downside, Crawford said, was the fact that no one actually owns the kernel and this makes SLAs (service-level agreements) more challenging. Microsoft also has a 15-year head start in the client market and most companies are still comfortable with Windows as an operating system, while the ISV/IHV ecosystem also still has a long way to go, he said.
But the days of vendor lock-in are over, Crawford said, and the fact that Microsoft is reaching out to the open-source community underscores its awareness of that. While the Linux desktop is not yet appropriate for everyone, its numbers are growing, he said
Crawford said a corporate desktop needs to be focused on the business user, compliant with company standards, interoperable, secure, and able to be shipped with an enterprise kernel and managed remotely, and to have standard applications installed.
"The Linux desktop can do all of that. It can be interoperable with earlier versions of the operating system, is generally interoperable with Windows, can ship with an enterprise kernel and can be remotely managed by existing management solutions," he said.
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The driving forces behind the Linux desktop were innovation, freedom and the frustration with Windows, he said. Unlike with Windows, the community also has the ability to influence and drive the technology, which also works well on thin clients, Crawford said.
But a software packaging standard needs to be established, even though it would take a lot of work, while getting the drivers necessary for printers, audio and other things to work on Linux is extremely important, he said. "We also need to get the different distributions to work on a common release cycle," he said.
He said Linux is a lot more secure than Windows as it has no registry, since everything is a file, which needs permissions to execute. There is also no such thing as a DLL, which Crawford described as the second most evil thing in Windows behind ActiveX.
Linux is good enough today to run as a corporate desktop and, like any technology, does not have to be perfect, just good enough, he said, adding that even in a Microsoft environment it was possible to use a Linux distribution as a corporate operating system.
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"This is the year of the interoperable Linux desktop. Standards are helping to drive adoption, while driver support will be the key to the success of desktop Linux. The opportunity to standardize and drive interoperability is paramount," Crawford said.
But the industry is also at a crossroads, and could follow the path of Unix or unify and drive adoption, he said. "If you want to differentiate, do so after we have started to win. We absolutely need to unify, we really do," he concluded.
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