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Linux desktop vendors show worthy alternatives

Linux desktop vendors show worthy alternatives

Novel, Red Hat and Ubuntu releases produce a Linux desktop ready for corporate computing

Vista be damned. Novell, Red Hat and Ubuntu are showing the world that Linux is getting its desktop house in order.

Novell made its SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 desktop available in July, Ubuntu shipped a new version of its Debian-based distribution a few weeks ago and Red Hat will release its Enterprise 5.0 version early next year.

All come with the corporate staples -- e-mail clients, Web browsers and office productivity applications -- and with pleasing, easy-to-use interfaces. Installations have been simplified, and all sport networking hooks to back-end systems. The result is a Linux desktop ready for corporate computing.

And obviously Microsoft is noticing as evidenced by last week's historic partnership with Novell focused on Windows/Linux interoperability for both the server and desktop.

The agreement lends credibility to a shift among the Linux vendors away from a hostile takeover mentality to a more pragmatic approach of offering a smart alternative based on use case.

Reality checks boundless optimism

Regardless, there is still a tough nut to crack as Linux client operating systems have hovered around 2 percent of market share for the past three years, according to IDC. In fact, gains in that period have been micro-percentages that are too small to consider when factoring in margin of error, says Al Gillen, an IDC analyst. And projections out to 2009 show Linux with only a 2.8 percent share, but Gillen says that could change given the Linux advances and the chance that Microsoft's product activation initiative and licensing models could alienate customers.

Desktop conversions are a tricky business, Gillen says. "The problem is that 75 percent to 85 percent of users are just too committed to the Windows desktop and it is hard and expensive to move away." He says the Linux desktop is arguably ready for prime time, "but the challenge is to find converts."

They are out there, however.

At Backcountry.com, nearly 70 percent of the online retailer's 200 or so desktops are Linux, including multi-user machines stationed in the company's warehouse.

In fact, if a user wants a Windows desktop they better have a good excuse because the standard issue is Linux. Those getting Windows typically need to support Excel macros.

"People have to justify Windows to get it and even then I challenge them a bit," says CTO Dave Jenkins. He sees Linux being a viable Windows alternative.

The notion is aided by major vendors such as IBM and Sun who are moving on the desktop. IBM, for example, released earlier this year a Notes client for Linux desktops.

And while no pragmatist in the Linux community will use the phrase "desktop replacement," confidence is growing on the development efforts from Novell, Red Hat, Ubuntu and a myriad of other commercial Linux desktops from Xandros to Linspire.

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