Friday, September 7, 2012

Linux on the Desktop: New Opportunities

Lately we’ve been treated to (or bombarded by) a slew of articles and blog posts proclaiming the failure and/or the death of Linux on the desktop. I could describe what I really think of these articles but my language would be a bit more colorful than would be appropriate. Suffice it to say it’s all bunk as far as I am concerned.

I have written about why I believe Linux remains under 10% of the desktop market: the lack of preloaded systems available in stores and the slow uptake of Linux on the enterprise desktop. The enterprise desktop is critical if Linux is to make progress on the consumer desktop without a presence in big box stores. People use what they know and like. If they use and like Linux at work they may well want to use it at home as well.

During my recent travels I had the opportunity to talk to a manager in a cash strapped part of government. Linux has been making inroads there not only on servers but also as a thin client solution. One high point of the discussion was when he showed me a magazine article, one I had already read, about how unsuitable Linux is for the desktop. He had read several articles like that one and had bought the oft repeated conclusion that Windows is still the only option for doing real work. Once again, it’s all bunk.

I was able to seize upon the opportunity, talking about my experience with Windows to Linux migrations I had seen in companies I have worked with. I also could point to a few large corporations that had made the change and had saved millions of dollars in the process. There is a real possibility I may be able to do a demonstration project using openSUSE. If that is successful it could lead to a significantly large enterprise migration, one I would get to participate in. This particular piece of government already has largely replaced Microsoft Office with OpenOffice so that’s one piece of the migration which would be simple for them.

Of course, if this did go forward, which is by no means a certainty, it would not be unique or in any way ground breaking. I’ve dealt with any number of companies and organizations that have done it already. Linux enterprise desktop penetration is still small, but there are some very large deployments out there. I’ve seen a few that have been absolutely successful in terms of lowering costs and increasing stability and security.

As anyone who reads the news knows, the economy in the U.S. is recovering slowly and the economy in much of Europe is back in recession. As businesses, governments and organizations look at ways to survive and even thrive in what is still a difficult financial climate it is very likely that Open Source solutions will get another serious look. If adoption grows in any meaningful way, even in a relatively small way, yet more consumers will be aware that there is an alternative to Windows out there, one which may well be superior for their particular needs. Once they’ve used Linux at the office, and perhaps Android (which is just a Linux distribution after all) on their phone or tablet, the fear of trying a different OS than Windows may be gone. The explosion of tablets and smartphones that generally don’t run Windows coupled with some expansion in corporate adoption may give Linux one perhaps final opportunity to gain traction on the consumer desktop as well.