Watch out Microsoft: GNOME is poised to have a killer 2010

The GNOME Foundation features a powerhouse roster of vendor sponsors who are committing more money than ever to support desktop Linux.

The GNOME Foundation has been slowly and quietly growing in marketing sophistication, arming itself to do battle with proprietary desktop leaders Microsoft and Apple. For instance, yesterday the foundation announced that it was raising its 2010 advisory board membership fees to $20,000 apiece for large companies and $10,000 for small ones.

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Those funds will not only help pay for the organization's well known "hack fests" -- where GNOME developers gather onsite to work on an open source project -- but also fund a small but growing staff of paid administrators. GNOME is becoming less of a volunteer labor of love and more like a business -- or at the very least, more like an organized non-profit.

All of this is to help GNOME get its much anticipated 3.0 version built, stable and available, says the GNOME Foundation's executive director Stormy Peters.

With 3.0 on the horizon, it made me wonder -- when was the last time you looked at GNOME? This open source desktop project actually celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2009 (March, 2009). It had intended to release the much ballyhooed 3.0 version this year, but for various reasons, decided the latest release, available in October September, would be better off named GNOME 2.302.28.

2.302.28 included, among other goodies, additions to its e-mail and groupware suite, Evolution, that specifically help companies migrate to GNOME from Windows. It added the ability "to import Microsoft Outlook Personal Folders (PST files) directly in Evolution. E-mail, contacts, appointments, tasks and journal entries are supported. (Previously, the files had to be imported via a third-party utility, such as Thunderbird on Windows.)" It also added support for MAPI, whereas previously it supported only SOAP.

Corporate users are the key to Microsoft's success. While consumers buy massive numbers of devices, corporations are the ones willing to spend, and spend big, for support. In 2010, the window is more open than it ever for desktop Linux (bad pun intended). Corporations are sitting on massive numbers of aging XP machines ready to upgrade. Will they automatically upgrade to Windows 7? Most of the users I talk to seem to think that they will, but the economy remains depressed. Combine this with the growing numbers of governments and early corporate adopters of desktop Linux and it becomes increasingly easy for the average IT department to start thinking seriously about Linux.

Seems to be a perfect storm for 2010. Microsoft has in its corner the fact that users know Windows, Windows PCs are more affordable than ever and overhauling a Microsoft/Windows infrastructure -- from management tools to training the IT staff -- could cost more than the savings from software license fees.

Which brings us back to the question of sophisticated marketing. If corporations had affordable systems integration tools to cutover, would they? GNOME's sponsors includes a roster of deep pockets who bear very little love for Microsoft. They include ACCESS, Hewlett Packard, Google, IBM, Intel, Motorola, Mozilla Foundation, Nokia, Novell (ok -- we'll admit Novell, home of GNOME founder Miguel de Icaza. probably "loves" Microsoft. Microsoft's Linux voucher program has steered a lot of business to SUSE), Red Hat and Sun Microsystems.

Other sponsors are Debian, the Free Software Foundation, Igalia, One Laptop Per Child, Software Freedom Law Center and Sugar Labs.

Among those names are companies that have convinced a growing number of government users and corporations to ditch Windows for desktop Linux including the Siemens Business Group in Germany, the UK's National Health Service (NHS) and a 400,000-seat call center in Sao Paulo.

Under what circumstances would you advise your company to move from Windows to Linux?

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