Linux on desktop warming up

Linux on the desktop is still mostly a pipe dream because few large organizations are ready to make the switch, but that didn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of proponents at the LinuxWorld conference in Boston last week.

In a panel discussion on the topic, representatives from a range of vendors said Linux on the desktop is becoming more feasible. Intel and Advanced Micro Devices representatives, for example, pointed out that schools in South America, India and Europe are early adopters.

And Greg Kelleher, senior program manager of IBM's Worldwide Linux Desktop Strategy, argued that desktop Linux is perfectly appropriate for some segments of the domestic workforce, particularly transactional workers, who typically live in one application most of the day.

John Cherry, manager of the Desktop Linux Initiative for the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), told attendees his group just made available a technology preview release of a set of common interfaces for Gnome and KDE, two popular Linux-based desktop environments.

This is the first fruit of OSDL's Portland Project, which "intends to generate a common set of Linux desktop interfaces and tools to allow all applications to easily integrate with the free desktop configuration" users choose. Portland is expected to encourage independent software vendors to step up their work on desktop offerings.

Why adopt Linux on the desktop? In a session about migrating Windows environments to Linux, Jon Walker, CTO of migration tool vendor Versora, listed a handful of reasons: security, usability, cost, avoiding vendor lock-in, and license leverage. But he cautioned buyers primarily motivated by savings to think again: "If cost is the No. 1 reason you're looking at Linux on the desktop, you're going to be disappointed."

A first step in any migration is choosing a Linux desktop distribution, of which there are hundreds. Walker likes to group them by what he calls their core philosophies: enterprise offerings include SuSE and Red Hat; pure open source offerings such as Debian; versions that are similar to Windows such as Xandros; and distributions known for ease of use such as Ubuntu and Mepis.

Other questions to consider include applications supported, maintenance and support offered, frequency of updates, ease of use and cost, Walker says.

Migration costs for one Versora customer with 1,500 desktops broke down this way: macro redevelopment, 1% of costs; training and support, 2%; indirect user expenses such as downtime and help desk calls, 46%; and migration cost, 51%. The customer calculated an ROI of three years.

That makes desktop Linux less dream-like.

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