Linux on the Desktop

PCWorld writes:

Users often ask when Linux will be ready for the desktop, said Nat Friedman, vice president of research and development for the Ximian division of Novell. But that’s the wrong question, because for many desktop users, Linux is already ready, said Friedman, a developer of the Gnome Linux desktop.

Instead of aiming for home desktop users, Linux vendors need to identify areas ripe for switching to Linux, including Unix workstations and enterprise desktops where the users run just a handful of basic programs like office and e-mail software, Friedman said. Linux isn’t yet ready for home users who want to run genealogy software or most video games, because those applications aren’t yet ported from Windows to Linux, he added.

Linux on the desktop especially makes sense in countries outside the U.S., where Microsoft is seen as the “American monopoly,” Hall said. “Why send all that money outside of the country, when you can use that money in your own country to create jobs?” he said.

He gave examples of Linux desktop adoption, including large-scale adoptions in Spain, Brazil, and Thailand, and a planned move from 14,000 Windows desktops to Linux in Munich’s city government. Linux is also used on desktops and point of sale devices at Burlington Coat Factory retail outlets and in several other U.S. corporations, Nat Friedman noted. Linux on the desktop is “happening right now — it has been happening for a couple of years,” Friedman said.

Jon “maddog” Hall, executive director of Linux International, predicted 2004 and 2005 will be “the age of Linux on the desktop.” As falling prices make PCs affordable for people in developing countries, computer users there won’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for Microsoft software, he said.

“When the price of used computer systems drops to something like $50 for a good Pentium II … you’ll find more and more of these so-called Third-World countries will be utilizing these (PCs) and free and open software for their businesses,” Hall said. “With Linux, they can do it with very little money.”

Friedman, who cofounded the Linux desktop software vendor Ximian before it was acquired by Novell in August, also suggested Linux desktops shouldn’t try to look like Windows, as most of the major Linux desktop projects do. By putting a “start” button in the lower left corner, Linux desktops are telling users their experience will be just like Windows, he said.

“What you’re doing is lying to the user,” Friedman said. “What you want to say from the outset is, ‘this is a different desktop experience, but it’s going to be easy.'”

In a story in The Inquirer, Gartner mentions 8 myths about Linux on the desktop:

1. Linux will be cheaper than Windows because StarOffice can be used instead of MS Office
2. Linux is free
3. No forced upgrades
4. Linux will require significantly less labour to manage
5. Linux will have a lower total cost of ownership than Windows because of available management tools
6. Hardware will be able to be kept longer if Linux is used or holder hardware can be used
7. Applications will be cheap or free
8. Transferable skills

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.