A controversial report from Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. has the open source community riled after it stated 80% of PCs bundled with Linux this year would eventually run a pirated copy of Microsoft Windows.
Annette Jump, a principal analyst with Gartner and author of the report, suggests emerging markets in China, Latin America and Eastern Europe may not have been the Linux goldmines that previous testimonials have depicted.
For example, the report states that in 2004, 80% of new PCs in emerging markets shipped with pre-installed Linux will end up running a pirated version of the Windows operating system.
Additionally, the report states that in 2005, more than 11% of new PCs in emerging markets will ship with Linux, but 75% of them will end up running a pirated Windows.
Linux swapped out in 'matter of days'
As hardware costs drop, Jump said, operating system costs have continued to rise. A Linux desktop is inherently cheaper than its Windows counterpart, and with versions of Microsoft's operating system going for as little as $1 in Shanghai, piracy is rampant. Today, the operating system can account for up to 15% of the computer's cost.
"The reason why vendors sell PCs with Linux allows them to lower the initial cost," Jump said. "The average computer costs $330 and putting Windows on top adds about $80 -- that becomes quite a big difference, especially for emerging markets."
After the customer purchases a Linux desktop, it is only a matter of days before it is swapped out and a pirated Windows version takes over, according to Jump.
"A majority of the users in emerging markets aren't as familiar with Linux as they are in North America and Western Europe; they want an environment they are familiar with in their work and schools," she said.
The open source community responds
The open source community was quick to dismiss the Gartner study, with reports surfacing late Friday that the Open Source Industry Australia, was dismissing the statistics given by Gartner as "ridiculous."
Jon "Maddog" Hall, the executive director and president of Linux International, a nonprofit organization based in Amherst, N.H., that distributes Linux information and funds testing of Linux applications, echoed the disagreement of his Australian colleagues.
"The Linux response for that [report] is it's crazy," said Hall, a user of Linux since 1996.
Hall said manufacturers could just as well put some other open source operating system on the computers or no operating system at all, but instead they put Linux because that is the operating system requested.
Users in emerging economies use Linux for more than just cost benefits, Hall said, as they can use Linux to get an entire operating system in their native language. Microsoft, he added, supports only about 50 languages, and in places like India where there are 15 official languages and 5,000 other dialects, the concept of moving from a highly supported Linux OS to Microsoft is not something that makes sense.
"The punishment for software piracy in a lot of countries -- even emerging ones -- is fairly harsh," Hall explained. "People in Brazil have mentioned that the punishment for using unlicensed software includes a jail sentence and a fine large enough to threaten to close down a small business."
Jump was unavailable to respond to Hall's statements.
Microsoft takes "inaction"
"Microsoft does not want to stop piracy 100% because in a way it could mean some of the people buying Linux won't be using it," Jump said.
Jump said Microsoft has probably been "closing their eyes" to Windows piracy in emerging markets over the past three to five years, and instead has targeted only those areas and businesses that can actually afford to buy their software yet continue to support piracy.
This is not to say Microsoft has ignored the threat Linux poses in any way, as Jump writes in her report. The upcoming release of Windows XP Starter Edition in Asia is a sign the company has recognized the issue and is planning to fight for OS share on new PCs.
Hall went so far as to call the move "just another Microsoft smokescreen" in the battle against Linux.
"[Microsoft] is always looking for ways to discredit Linux computers, and I am not saying Gartner survey is that, but I would like to find a little more about their methodology and how they came up with their numbers," Hall said.
The upper-level Microsoft tools are the real cost on new computers, Hall explained, and these would have to be pirated in addition to the OS. Even then users would not have access to the training, bug fixes or any of the services Microsoft sells, making such a move less likely than the Gartner report suggests.
"With Linux, people can get a set of useful software for free, support from the community and then be able to tailor it to their needs via the source code. This is worth far more than the money they might save on Microsoft's royalty structure," Hall said.
Analyst: Linux slowed, but still gaining ground
Jump said the report was in no way intended to hurt Linux, but instead was meant to show real facts relating to it.
Most dedicated Linux deployments occur in environments that have less use for Microsoft Windows and Office productivity applications, she added. Dedicated Linux desktop users tend to be kiosk or call center workers, limited-functionality desktop users, managed desktop users in a banking or retail sector and former users of Unix workstations.
"There is an obvious place for Linux and we see its share increasing, but we think there are obstacles to overcome before Linux sees widespread adoption," Jump said. "At the moment [Linux] is still quite a niche product."
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Jack Loftus, News Writer