Applications shortfall dampens Linux users' enthusiasm for desktop products

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Applications shortfall dampens Linux users' enthusiasm for desktop products

Cliff Saran

Linux users are frustrated by the lack of functionality of open source desktop products, according to a major survey by the Open Source Development Lab.

Members of the OSDL, which aims to boost the take up of Linux in the enterprise, include IBM, Hewlett-Packard, CA, Intel, Novell and NEC.

The Desktop Linux Client survey of 3,374 IT professionals, conducted by the OSDL Desktop Linux Working Group, highlighted key areas of Linux functionality that end-users want to see improved.

Fifty per cent of those surveyed said the web browsers supplied with Linux distributions were critical. Forty eight per cent said browser plug-in support needed improving or was "severely inhibiting" the use of Linux on the desktop.

Office productivity tools were deemed critical to the desktop deployment of Linux by 51% of the survey's respondents, and a further 31% said they were extremely important.

However, application support and end-user training were cited as factors inhibiting the adoption of Linux.

More than 70% of those asked said application support needed to be improved or was restricting what they could do. Some 27% of respondents said the need for end-user training was severely limiting their deployment of Linux desktops.

Desktop management was another area of concern, with 38% of respondents looking for an improvement. In addition, 48% of those surveyed felt that hardware support could be improved.

Claude Beullens, European director of the OSDL, highlighted hardware support issues. "Not all USB devices have drivers available for Linux," he said. This means it is not possible to simply plug them into the PC and use them.

Another area that needs improving is printer support. Although Linux offers generic printer support, Beullens said, "Printer integration for the Linux desktop is not there yet."

In August, analyst firm Gartner suggested that few companies were using desktop Linux and other open source software products because the cost of migrating from Microsoft Windows was too great.

Surveying users at its conferences in Europe and the US, Gartner found that just 1% of enterprise IT users run any Linux desktops. It also estimated that the proportion of enterprise users with some Linux desktops would only increase to 3.2% by 2008.

Some public sector bodies have deployed desktop Linux. Bristol Council has migrated 5,000 desktops from Microsoft Office to open source application suite Staroffice. And Birmingham City Council is trialling Linux desktops in its 40 libraries.

Reasons for deploying desktop Linux

The Open Source Development Lab survey revealed a range of reasons for the deployment of Linux on the desktop. They include:

  • Employees requesting Linux
  • Competitors successfully deploying Linux
  • Total cost of ownership
  • Reduced software licensing costs
  • Security
  • Source code availability (ability to customise)
  • Corporate direction
  • Unhappy with existing desktop operating system.

The OSDL said it was surprised by the top two results. "Conventional wisdom suggests that Linux is initially adopted as a developer tool but is generally not viewed as a competitive issue," the organisation said.

The results, it suggested, represented a cultural shift within organisations to "stay aggressive" in analysing and deploying open source software and to not be left behind.

"We also found it interesting that total cost of ownership and the reduction of licensing costs, which are more economic than technical benefits ranked higher than security," the OSDL said.

Critical applications for Linux roll-outs

The Open Source Development Lab survey highlighted the following applications (listed in order) which were deemed most critical to Linux desktop deployments:

  • E-mail/messaging
  • Office productivity tools such as text documents, spreadsheets, and presentation software
  • Browser
  • Database applications
  • Developer tools (editors, compilers, development environments, etc)
  • Applications specific to the business
  • Internally developed applications
  • Secure remote access/VPN
  • Personal information manager
  • Audio or video players.

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