What Users Want from Desktop Linux

An OSDL survey reveals that Linux desktop users want better e-mail, native Linux versions of Windows applications, and better USB and network printing support.

Linux desktops have always faced an uphill battle against Windows desktops. Now, OSDL is calling together architects from over two dozen key desktop-oriented Linux projects to a Dec. 1-2 meeting at its headquarters to set strategic directions and standards, and find synergy amongst Desktop Linux organizations.

For the foundation of this DTL (Desktop Linux Working Group) session, the OSDL (Open Source Development Labs Inc.) is using the results of its recently completed Desktop Linux Client Survey.

In this survey, OSDL found that users have been turning to desktop Linux because of user demand and competitive business reasons. Survey answers were drawn from over 3,000 self-selected, Linux-using respondents.

In the survey, OSDL analyst Dave Rosenberg said, "We found the top two results to be intriguing in that conventional wisdom suggests that Linux is initially adopted as a developer tool (user demand) but is generally not viewed as a competitive issue."

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"We also found it interesting that TCO and the reduction of licensing costs, which are more economic than technical benefits, ranked higher than security. One explanation based on the write-in essays appears to be that security is not considered an issue with Linux and therefore TCO and licensing costs are areas of positive gain, whereas security has already reached a baseline plateau," Rosenberg said.

The most critical applications for successful Linux deployments, according to the survey takers, are e-mail, office suites and Web browsers.

OSDL said it is interesting that e-mail is being considered even more important than either a browser or office productivity. Rosenberg speculates that that might be because "e-mail truly is the killer app regardless of platform," or that desktop Linux still needs a quality e-mail application.

At this time, only Novell Inc.s Evolution is considered a business-class e-mail application, with its Outlook-like inclusion of group calendaring and address lists.

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The survey respondents also said they thought the main reason why users havent switched to Linux is that "application support must be available for new and existing non-open-source desktop applications and utilities such as VPN clients. In particular, Photoshop, PageMaker, AutoCAD and Quicken were mentioned as applications that users want to see on Linux."

While some of such applications, such as Quicken, can be run on Linux with a third-party program like CodeWeavers Inc.s CrossOver Office, users would prefer native Linux versions of their favorite Windows programs, the survey said.

Peripheral device driver support was also a hot-button issue. In particular, USB device and networking printing were mentioned as areas that needed improvement.

By addressing these issues and more, OSDL said it hopes that the Linux desktop meeting in December at its Portland, Ore., headquarters will resolve them and lead to a renewed effort to create a Linux desktop that can compete on even terms with Windows.

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