Does Linux belong on your desktop?
April 21, 2005
There's been a lot of self-interested rhetoric, from both sides, on the Windows vs. Linux question, and as more organizations consider the possibility of using Linux to run their desktops as well as their servers, the noise level promises to go up another notch or two. So it's good to see a fairly level-headed report on the attitudes and experiences of actual users. It's also nice that the 20-page report is free (though you'll need to supply your email address here to receive a copy).
Written by the U.K. technology research firm Quocirca, the report is based on an on-line survey of some 8,000 IT professionals conducted earlier this year. One of the most striking findings is simply the breadth of interest in exploring alternatives to Windows for corporate PCs. Here's how respondents replied to the question "How do you see your use of desktop and laptop PC operating systems evolving?":
5% said they are enthusiastically committed to Windows
32% said they will continue using Windows as a "pragmatic standard"
23% said they are resigned to being "stuck with Windows"
22% said they are considering the possibility of shifting to Linux
18% said they have or will adopt Linux as a standard
These numbers seem, frankly, skewed toward the Linux side, which probably isn't surprising considering it was an online survey. Nevertheless, they should cause concern at Microsoft. They don't exactly show a great deal of fondness for Windows.
That said, abandoning the dominant desktop OS for an as yet immature platform is no small undertaking. The report's authors point to five major barriers in adopting Linux: (1) software availability and compatibility, (2) usability, user acceptance and resistance to change, (3) cost and challenge of end-user training and support, (4) cost and challenge of porting custom applications, and (5) dependency on Microsoft Active Directory. Lined up against these are the top five reasons companies consider the Linux alternative: (1) security vulnerabilities in Windows, (2) cost of keeping Windows secure, (3) performance, (4) stability and reliability, and (5) Windows licensing cost and complexity.
In conclusion, the authors write: "Windows is firmly embedded into the fabric of so many organisations and switching it out for any alternative, however good, is not a trivial task. The question of whether Desktop Linux is an appropriate solution for a particular organisation is therefore down to the cost/benefit equation associated with the migration, which is in turn determined by the starting point and the application requirements of end users. With this in mind, the cost/benefit ratio is likely to rule against wholesale Desktop Linux adoption for most organisations at this point in time, especially the larger ones ... However, many organisations could probably identify selective targets to which Linux could be deployed safely and cost effectively with the minimum of disruption. Users whose requirements largely revolve around transaction processing systems such as ERP, for example, could fall into this category ... Having said this, it is precisely this type of user that is often targeted with thin client solutions such as Citrix, which works around many of the perceived issues with full Windows desktops using a different approach."
In other words, companies have options, but making the leap to Linux will not be worth the trouble in most cases - at least for the time being. There's nothing surprising in such a conclusion, of course, but it's useful to hear the perspectives of some real people grappling with real issues.
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