Ease companies into Linux, say advocates

More companies will run Linux on their client hardware if the Linux community makes a strong business case for running the...

More companies will run Linux on their client hardware if the Linux community makes a strong business case for running the open-source operation system, speakers at the Desktop Linux Conference said yesterday.

Bruce Perens, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative, said existing Linux distribution companies such as Red Hat and SuSE Linux will have to evolve into larger services organisations if Linux is to gain a toehold on the enterprise desktop.

Perens called for Linux distributors to unite behind a single distribution based on the Debian version of Linux, which he helped to develop. Enterprises will be willing to pay Linux companies to engineer the operating system for their specific environments, but the underlying code would remain free, he said.

IBM's Global Services team is getting behind Linux on the desktop, starting within IBM itself, according to Sam Docknevich, Linux and grid services executive for IBM.

About 14,000 IBM employees use Linux desktops at present, and he estimated that number will grow to about 50,000 or 60,000 by next year.

"Linux should be on the shortlist when enterprises are considering an upgrade," Docknevich said. For companies with users needing only a few custom applications, Linux desktops can deliver enough performance to satisfy their requirements at a fraction of the cost of Windows, he added.

Other areas where Linux desktops should make inroads are in kiosk systems, or other fixed-function systems where the operating system plays a very small role in the use of that device, Docknevich said.

The largest obstacle to more widespread desktop Linux adoption is the enormous installed base of Windows applications that many enterprises are dependent upon, Perens said. Companies that have started to move applications onto the internet, or companies that use a small number of relatively simple applications, will be the early adopters of the Linux desktop, he said.

Software is available for those companies that cannot afford to make a full transition to Linux, said Jeremy White, president and chief executive officer of Codeweavers, which makes a product called Crossover Office, which allows Linux users to run Windows programs such as Microsoft Office and IBM's Lotus Notes.

Crossover Office runs a limited number of applications but is less expensive than Win4Lin, White said. Win4Lin is software that allows Linux users to run any application developed for Windows, said Jim Curtin, president and chief executive officer of Netraverse, which develops Win4Lin.

"We want to provide an alternate method of deploying Windows applications. Use Codeweavers for smaller applications, Win4Lin for larger ones," Curtin said.

Linux provides a low-cost alternative to Windows for most enterprise PC users that do not tap into the full potential of their desktops, Perens said, predicting that by 2006, almost a third of enterprise desktops will run Linux.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

Read more on Operating systems software