Experts: Linux desktop growth steady and unstoppable

Two desktop experts well versed in interoperability issues weigh in on what's ready to run, what's still warming up and why some users are still betting on other contenders.

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Almost everyone remembers the fabled race between the tortoise and the hare. While the flashy rabbit overconfidently napped his time away, the plodding tortoise crossed the finish line first. The moral: Slow and steady wins the race. That moral might not always hold true in today's fast-paced business world, but for Linux desktop adoption, it may prove just the ticket.

In this interview, two desktop experts well versed in interoperability issues -- Jeremy White, founder and CEO of CodeWeavers, and Andreas Typaldos, CEO of Linux distributor, Xandros -- give some candid feedback about what's ready to run, what's still warming up and why some users are still betting on other contenders.

In the Linux desktop area, are the all the applications for the enterprise Linux in place today?

Andreas Typaldos: For the typical enterprise user who needs to churn out documents, create spreadsheets and presentations, and do e-mail, Web browsing and other Internet tasks, everything is in place.

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Jeremy White: There is enough that enterprises can realistically start planning migrations and start trials to get their feet wet. But if your enterprise relies on SAP, Siebel, Notes or any of a hundred other enterprise applications, not to mention in-house applications, you could have a challenge. We're closing in, but we're not there yet.

I hope that some day we'll make it so that you can just drop a Windows CD into a Linux system drive and expect it to just work, but Wine still has a ways to go before that's going to be possible.

What are the top open source desktop applications that you know of, including your own? What's missing?

White: I think the 'must have' list is Firefox, Evolution or Thunderbird, OpenOffice and CrossOver. On that last one, I'm probably biased.

What's missing is an obviously superior group calendaring solution. Many choices exist, but none of them have emerged as the clear winner. The Sunbird stuff from Mozilla looks promising, and Chandler is intriguing, but neither of those is in shipping format yet.

Typaldos: Xandros desktop solutions do provide some proprietary improvements, such as encrypted home folders and drag-and-drop DVD burning, but our principal strength is in tweaking and integrating OpenOffice.org, Firefox, Thunderbird and other open source technologies.

What's the biggest barrier to widespread adoption of open source applications by businesses?

Typaldos: Inertia. That's not always a bad thing, since when an enterprise has hundreds of person-years and millions of dollars invested in custom-tailored solutions, it doesn't always make sense to switch. However, this applies much more to mainframe-type systems than to desktop ones.

White: I think the whole concept of open source makes business people nervous. I know that whenever I deal with someone, it is important for me to understand their motivation. If a car sales guy gives me something for free, then I know I paid too much for the car.

I think that same instinct makes people hesitate around open source. The profit motive is extremely well understood, and open source motives and practices are not. Companies have to chart new paths to be comfortable adopting it.

Today, what's the biggest barrier to the increased usage of the Linux desktop by businesses? Is that barrier going to be toppled soon?

Typaldos: Perceived risk -- the general perception that it's safer to stick with Windows, with all its risks, than to switch to something new, even if it's more stable and secure, and far loss costly in the long run. However the risk perception is rapidly shifting, and once some major enterprises jump ship, the perceived risk will be on the other foot, flipping the question around.

We certainly don't advocate a 'cold turkey' switchover from Windows to Linux, which is why you'll find a full suite of migration tool in Xandros. A lot of enterprises are launching pilot projects, so one of our biggest in the coming year will be to flesh out the migration path for them.

White: No, I don't think it's going to topple. I think it's going to gradually erode until one day we'll look up and see Linux on desktops everywhere. I don't think the growth on the desktop will be dramatic or sudden; I simply think it will be steady and unstoppable.

Have businesses' worries about getting sued for using Linux and open source software decreased recently? If not, why? If so, why?

White: No, I'd say the opposite. Microsoft is working very hard to scare people about Linux. I know of one very large enterprise that was sufficiently intimidated by Microsoft that they backed away from a planned migration.

But, candidly, this is it -- this is the last defense that Microsoft has. They can't realistically start suing their customers, and I doubt that any suits they might bring would prevail. I think that once we overcome this fear, the migrations will begin in earnest.

Typaldos: It never comes up in our client discussions. The backing of IBM and other large corporations has a lot to do with perceived risk, plus the passage of time ... the SCO lawsuit against IBM has become a joke.

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