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Don't expect Linux to fight a David and Goliath battle, users told

The adoption of Linux on the desktop is progressing, but there won't be a "David and Goliath" struggle that suddenly slays the dominance of Microsoft's  Windows, advocates said at the Enterprise Linux Forum Conference and Expo in Washington, DC yesterday.

Nat Friedman, vice president of research and development for the Ximian division of Novell, said desktop users often asked him, "When will Linux be ready for the desktop?"

But those are the wrong questions, because for many desktop users, Linux is already ready, said Friedman, a developer of the Gnome Linux desktop.

The media has portrayed the Linux versus Microsoft desktop fight as a David versus Goliath bible, but unlike the Bible story, Linux will not fell the software giant with one blow, Friedman said.

He added that Google statistics show that 1% of its search requests come from Linux machines, 3% from Apple Macintosh PCs, and most of the rest from various versions of Windows.

A study released by IDC this month noted small growth in both Windows and Linux on the client side, with Windows maintaining more than 93% of the client market.

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 such as office and e-mail software, Friedman said.

Linux is not yet ready for home users who want to run genealogy software or most video games, he added, because those applications have not yet been ported from Windows to Linux.

Linux should see stronger gains in the desktop market in 2004-05, predicted Jon Hall, executive director of Linux International

Corporations can save money by using Linux on the desktop because, compared with Windows, Linux crashes less often and is less prone to virus attacks, he claimed. 

A Microsoft representative had no comment on desktop competition from Linux, but referred to the recent IDC numbers showing growth in Windows on desktops, which said new licence shipments by Microsoft on the client side increased to 93.8% of the worldwide market in 2002, up from 93.2% in 2001.

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

He gave examples of Linux desktop adoption, including large-scale adoptions in Spain, Brazil, Thailand and a planned move from 14,000 Windows desktops to Linux in Munich's city government.

"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 utilising these computers and free and open software for their businesses," Hall said. "With Linux, they can do it with very little money."

Friedman, who co-founded the Linux desktop software company Ximian before it was acquired by Novell in August, also suggested that desktops for Linux should not try to look like Windows. By putting a "start" button in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, 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.'"

Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service


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