Novell's Brainshare Europe was heralded as a conference in which users would be able to share their experiences of Linux, but those who attended the event found it far from buzzing with user activity.
Novel chief executive officer, Jack Messman in his keynote presentation, said the event would be Windows free: all terminals were running Linux. "What we are delivering is choice," he said.
But greater choice has not had much impact on the list of public Linux references, which has remained more or less static: City of Bergen, Norway; Deutsche Bank; UK Office of the Deputy Prime Minster and Allied Irish Bank.
Freddie Kavanagh, chief technology officer at Novell EMEA, said, "Some organisations are much more risk averse."
Many of these, he admitted, wanted to speak to reference customers, but only a few existed.
Kavanagh also faced a challenge with Windows-interoperability, since any links between Linux systems and a Windows server would require Microsoft client access licences, which would make a mixed Linux/Windows environment more expensive than if a user upgraded to the latest Microsoft technology.
"Customers need to make an investment in order to be open," he said.
Another challenge is web-based applications, which should be able to run on any operating system, since they operate as thin clients. However, Kavanagh noted that "most applications are built for Internet Explorer".
But if Linux cannot supplant Windows it does have some uses, for legacy migration.
One of the few users presenting at the event, Raeks P&I (Protection and Liability) which specialises in marine insurance, discussed how a key business application was migrated from the Borland Paradox database onto the open-source MySQL database running on SuSE Linux.
The company has its headquarters in Rotterdam and offices in Singapore, Paris and London.
Folkert Strengholg, managing director of Raeks P&I, needed to replace an in-house developed Paradox-based insurance application as the person who wrote the code had left the company.
An assessment from an independent consultant found that redeveloping the Paradox application would have been costlier than writing a new insurance application from scratch.
The company has been working with Novell and Cambridge Software Solutions since June to create the application. Testing is due to start in November and the application is expected to be rolled out in January 2005.