Survey: E-mail may try on a tuxedo

A new Osterman Research survey may put a penguin in your inbox, so long as those webbed feet don't disrupt end users in the process.

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Many of North America's chief information officers (CIOs) and IT managers would consider a Linux alternative for e-mail in the enterprise -- barring any major disruption to the everyday proceedings of their company.

Results from a recent survey conducted by Black Diamond, Wash.-based Osterman Research Inc. showed that slightly more than half of those managers contacted said they would "seriously consider" switching to Linux messaging over the course of the next two years -- if there was no disruption to end users.

"I think there is a general warming up to Linux," said Michael Osterman, founder of Osterman Research. "The theory on my part is that the warming to a Linux e-mail system is reflective of the growing momentum of Linux in general."

The study also revealed that over 80% would consider a Web-based e-mail client if it retained the same level of functionality as their current desktop client, while 21% of CIOs were "actively enthusiastic" about replacing their entire e-mail system with Linux, as long as they can remove their current system.

The theory on my part is that the warming to a Linux e-mail system is reflective of the growing momentum of Linux in general.
Michael Osterman
FounderOsterman Research

Some of those individuals surveyed -- approximately 40% -- also professed a desire for an operating system and messaging system for the back end that provided better performance or lower costs.

Survey respondents also discussed the barriers a Linux-based e-mail infrastructure would face as it attempted to gain a stronger foothold in the messaging space. Speed bumps in the migration process were a lack of Linux messaging expertise and the anticipated disruptions to end users.

"Basically, anytime you touch the desktop you run the risk of fairly serious disruption to users. Not all users are that sophisticated and by modifying anything at all -- how you send a file, how attach a file -- you increase help desk costs, training costs and anything of that nature," Osterman said.

Even in light of a disruption issue, Osterman said Linux is and will continue to make inroads on the desktop messaging space, because some users have been requesting or using Linux messaging on a Windows computer.

"I don't think Linux will replace [Windows], but it has made significant movement [in that space]," Osterman explained.

The Mozilla Foundation, which released the open source Web browser Firefox, gave Linux a big boost last week. It said the open source e-mail client Thunderbird was now a version 1.0 release candidate -- the final stage before an official release. With more than 7 million downloads to date for Firefox, Mozilla expects Thunderbird to soar just as high.

IT managers also cited a perceived lack of personnel trained on Linux.

"It's fairly easy to find Windows expertise out there, but less likely to find Linux-based messaging expertise," Osterman said.

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However, Osterman said both training and smoother migrations were both ailments that would naturally recede over time.

Osterman said the survey was conducted throughout October in two parts, with groups of 103 and 95 IT managers and CIOs from companies throughout the U.S. and Canada.

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