Interview

Friedman: Expectations rising over Linux desktop

Michael S. Mimoso, Editorial Director
Right now there aren't a lot of real-world large enterprises using Linux on the desktop. How important are potential success stories in swaying other enterprise decision makers to make the move?
That would help a lot. Right now you can point to a ton of migrations and ROI on the server. That doesn't exist on the desktop. By the end of the year, you're going to see it. You don't have it now. A lot of guys are trying to figure out how to dip their toes into this.

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What misconceptions exist concerning Linux desktops that may be holding back enterprise adoption?
The No. 1 misconception is that usability is a major barrier to adoption and that's not true. It used to be. There was a study done recently with a group of 20 users who had never used a computer before. Ten were put at a Windows PC, 10 at a Linux PC and they were given a list of simple tasks like sending an e-mail, surfing to a Web page and the usability results were pretty much the same.

The real problem is getting your work done if the applications don't exist.

We also need to focus on consistency in the community. If we say 'file or print', we want to see the same dialog box come up.

Another misconception is that no innovation takes place on the desktop and that we're just copying Apple and Microsoft. That's not true. People just don't notice it because it's a small market. For example, there's been a bug-reporting feature [in Linux] since GNOME 97. Microsoft is just doing it now.

The reality is, there is not going to be a single moment when a set of technology problems are solved. There's going to be gradual adoption like we've seen with servers.
Nat Friedman
VP product development
What desktop initiatives is Novell working on?
We decided not to formally announce a road map, but show a little and talk about the general direction where we are heading. We're developing a Windows migration program to make it easier to move to the Linux desktop with training and documentation and migration tools that automate tasks.

We also working on central administration and management of the desktop. Novell ZenWorks manages Windows desktops, deploys applications to Windows desktops, and sets up profiles for groups of users from one console. No tools exist in the Linux world that would do this for the Linux desktop.

We're also concentrating on Free Desktop.org. We are going to take common functionality shared between the five primary platforms (GNOME, KDE, Mozilla, OpenOffice, Eclipse) and we do work to get them to a shared platform. We don't see KDE as the platform, for example, but Linux as the platform. How big of a barrier is application availability?
Application availability is the No. 1 barrier. If an application does not exist, enterprises are not likely to move to Linux. Unix shops are among the first to go because the applications are easy to port to Linux. The next set will be smaller sets of applications like call centers and point-of-sale.

Nat Friedman
What kinds of resources is Novell going to devote to Linux on the desktop?
Part of that question is about our expectations around the next 12 months. Linux on the desktop is in an early, very early stage. I've lived in this world for six or seven years doing everything from development to PR, and one of the most interesting phenomenons is the expectation people have of the Linux desktop. There's usually rising expectation followed by grave disappointment. Right now there is rising expectation.

My theory is that people view the desktop as a binary thing: you either have it or you don't. I'm always asked when is the Linux desktop going to be ready for everyone to use? The reality is, there is not going to be a single moment when a set of technology problems are solved. There's going to be gradual adoption like we've seen with servers.

The Linux desktop is an exciting opportunity. More of [Novell's] resources are focused on the server. We don't expect much movement on the desktop in the next 12 months, but it's an important strategic target.

A lot is happening outside the U.S. where there is not as big an installed Windows base. A day doesn't go by when I don't talk to a Fortune 1000 customer from the financial services market, automotives or others that are not looking at dipping their feet into the Linux desktop.


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