New ideas about desktop Linux use will be one focus of the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in San Francisco, as advocates showcase recent Linux deployment wins over Microsoft's Windows operating system in the city of Munich and elsewhere.
"There's a lot of examples where it's becoming more widespread," said Warwick Davies, a group vice-president of IDG World Expo, which hosts the annual show.
Dan Kusnetsky, an analyst at IDC, who has just co-authored a report on the subject, sees several ways Linux can make inroads into the desktop market.
Consumers interested in moving away from the Windows operating system could come to see Linux as a viable alternative - if it can support their need for internet access, e-mail and access to web-based applications, he said. And it could gain popularity among users hoping for a more secure alternative to Windows, he said.
Developers of platform-neutral software such as Java-based applications and web services might also come to favour Linux over Windows - if it allows them to create those applications using appropriate tools and if the price is right, he said.
Kusnetsky also noted that the needs of many workers could be met with any operating system that provides common applications such as a web browser, a Java virtual machine and reliable e-mail agent. So organisations could supply those workers with a system running Linux as the underlying client operating environment for either client/server applications or web-centric applications, he said.
Despite those possibilities, knowledge workers are likely to remain tied to Windows-centric packaged applications, personal productivity software and development tools, and will be the last to move to Linux, according to Kusnetsky.
IDC predicts that Linux will grow from a 2.7% market share, with 3.4 million paid licence shipments in 2002, to a 6% share with more than 10 million shipments in 2007, he said.
"The whole industry is starting to wake up to the possibility of Linux on the desktop," said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata.
"Sun and HP are enthusiastic about it. But even companies such as IBM that have historically said it's a server phenomenon have seen the genuine interest not only in Asia but in large European and US companies and are starting to wake up to it," he said. "But it's still in its early days. To say Windows on [the] desktop is dominant is even too soft of a statement."
Even so, this year's LinuxWorld is expected to generate a lot of interest among Linux users, advocates and suppliers. More than 190 exhibitors are signed up for the show at the Moscone Centre, up from about 135 last year, said Davies.
Major suppliers, including IBM, HP, Novell and its SuSE Linux division, Red Hat, Intel, Computer Associates International, Dell and Oracle will be on the show floor displaying the latest Linux products and offering implementation strategies.
Davies said increased attention on the security of Linux is a given, as well as a look at bringing Linux into corporate environments without forcing companies to scrap existing systems.
About 11,000 attendees gathered for the show last year, and organisers said they expect a similar number this year.
Todd R Weiss and Linda Rosencrance writes for Computerworld