Linux predicted to capture 30% of firms' desktops by 2006.
What is it?
Eighteen months ago the response of most analysts to the prospect of desktop Linux was "not in my lifetime". Linux was gaining dominance on the server, but Microsoft owned the desktop and the applications.
More recently, dissatisfaction with Microsoft's new licencing terms and the sense that desktop upgrades enforced by the threat of withdrawing support does not necessarily deliver business value, have combined with lower budgets to create a much more receptive market.
Heavyweights Sun and Novell and now IBM have started to weigh in behind desktop Linux. The open source desktop business is no longer fragmentary - Mozilla and Gnome have corporate cred.
Bruce Perens, the Desktop Linux Consortium's executive director, said Linux will capture nearly 30% of business desktops by 2006.
Where did it originate?
The K Desktop Environment first arrived in 1996 and set out to provide a fully graphical Windows equivalent for Unix.
Next, in 1997, came the Gnu (Gnu's Not Unix) Gnome Project to develop an open source desktop. Ximian, the Linux desktop and management software company taken over by Novell in August, was founded in 1999.
What is it for?
Gartner Group caused outrage in the open source community earlier this year when it asserted that migrating the desktop to Linux only made sense in very limited circumstances.
"Migration costs will be very high, because all Windows applications will have to be replaced or rewritten... A Linux migration should only be considered if there are relatively few applications which are fixed-function or low-function, such as data entry, call centre or bank teller/platform automation."
Not true, said the opensourcers: emulation packages such as Wine or VMWare allow Windows applications to run on Linux and Citrix, and Ximian's Evolution enables Linux desktops to link to Microsoft products on servers.
What makes it special?
Sun's Project Mad Hatter, a "new but familiar" desktop operating platform including Gnome, Mozilla, Java technology, Ximian's Evolution and the Staroffice suite, is one quarter of the cost of the Windows equivalent, according to Sun. Project Mad Hatter will interoperate with Microsoft Office, Exchange and Lotus Notes.
Open source developments are user-driven, rather than supplier-driven, and the developer and support community is much larger than even the biggest software supplier can muster.
Microsoft did not gain in popularity by releasing the first patch for Office 2003 barely a fortnight after the product's launch.
How difficult is it to master?
Sun and Novell already offer management suites to make life easier for desktop administrators.
Where is it used?
Ximian said its Linux desktop and management products have more than one million users, but potential users now include Novell customers. Sun said Staroffice has more than 20 million users and more than 60 systems OEMs supply it.
What systems does it run on?
PCs and thin-client workstations.
What is coming up?
IBM's entry into the desktop Linux business.
Try Sun and Novell and their partners, or see the Gnome Foundation and Developers' Corner for tutorials, books and the latest news.
Rates of pay
No figures as yet. This could be your chance to be in at the ground floor.