Linux: Is 2008 The Year Of The Desktop?

It’s right about time; and the time is about right…

It really does appear as though we are approaching that point of critical mass, where something other than Windows could become a dominant desktop OS.

Apple have just recorded their best ever quarter and so have the legions of converts to OS X. As there is almost no condescension about their slick and user friendly Operating System. Oh yes, the core of OS X is Open Source, built on Mach 3.0 and FreeBSD 5. But you still have to buy a MAC to run it so it is not the least expensive alternative and let’s not forget we have hundreds of millions of Intel/AMD i86 compatible PCs out there.

But now we have that bastion of conservative enterprise solutions, IBM saying

In an announcement this week at the Lotusphere 2008 conference in Orlando, IBM said that it will provide full support for Ubuntu Linux with Lotus Notes 8.5 and Lotus Symphony using its Open Collaboration Client software, which is based on open standards.

Antony Satyadas, chief competitive marketing officer for IBM Lotus, said the Ubuntu support for Notes and Symphony were a direct response to demand from customers.

Support for Ubuntu. From IBM. Just think about that for a moment…

“We’re doing pilots with customers now,” Satyadas said. “Some of the requests came from big companies” with as many as 100,000 users that are interested in moving to Ubuntu Linux on the desktop.

100,000 users moving to Linux on the desktop – wow. Just how much will that save MegaCorp Inc.? Who knows, but I bet it is a pretty sizeable truck load of cash.

IBM have endorsed Ubuntu. This is, actually, really big news. For a firm the size of IBM they don’t do things like this lightly or “just for fun”. This means there must be serious demand from their enterprise customers for a change; and it’s a big change. Their own press release for this entitled “IBM Accelerates Desktop Customer Choice With Support for Ubuntu, Red Hat and Novell Software” just shows how far we have come. Three alternative Linux operating systems. All with support from IBM.

“All the stars are lining up,” he said. “Everybody has been saying that since 2001 except IBM. We never said that, but we are saying that now.”

In the past, IBM has said Linux on the corporate desktop wouldn’t happen until the operating system was good enough to allow companies to have all the functions they need to run their businesses. At the same time, an adequate supply of critical business software that would run reliably and efficiently on Linux would be needed.

“We are putting our money where our mouth is,” Satyadas said. “We think now the time is really [here]” and the needed business applications are available to make it work for corporations.

“Linux is cool now,” he said. “We use it ourselves. We are able to offer a secure, rich and cost-effective Microsoft alternative.”

We also have seen reports of very large scale deployments happening all over the world where tens of thousands of desktops are moving to free and open operating systems. Here’s a recent one from India. This is a really good read and shows just what can be done with OSS in the enterprise, and at some speed too! I especially enjoyed his comments on the complete non-issue that anti-virus and malware problems are since their migration to Linux.

…A year later, Umashankar and his team had moved 30,000 computers and 1,880 severs belonging to some of the state’s schools to Linux — creating possibly the largest Linux rollout in India.

And here’s the very simple “why” this made so much sense:

The decision to migrate to Linux was driven primarily by cost. It was hard to escape the cold figures before Umashankar: Elcot saved Rs 5 crore1 on every 20 servers it set up with Linux. And they had over 1,800 servers.

In addition, Umashankar says that the shift saves them about 25 percent on any general hardware purchases — and as much as 90 percent on the high-end servers.

Umashankar says that his office uses the Openoffice.org suite. This saves them close to Rs 12,000 on each desktop, he says.

“We buy Intel dual core desktops with 19″ TFT monitors for Rs 21,600 including the Linux OS. If we bought a proprietary office suite at Rs 12,000 for each desktop, the cost of commissioning infrastructure would go up to Rs 33,600 — a 55 percent increase,” he says.

55% uplift on every desktop. Just for your Office Application suite. If only more people realised this…

When you realise the kind of savings that are to be had, and knowing that there are now several free and excellent Desktop alternatives such as:

  • Ubuntu and it’s derivatives (I have heard very good things about Mint recently),
  • OpenSuse,
  • Fedora,
  • And many others. See Distrowatch for a up-to-date list of what’s hot and what’s not.

it really makes me angry that our UK government are so blind to the opportunities.

With all of these Linux desktop distributions come, literally, thousands of free applications which provide an almost total replacement for available commercial products, and also offer many more that are not present in the commercial domain at all.

We now have top quality products that fulfil most of the mainstream business requirements. I’m thinking, Firefox, Thunderbird (or Evolution), OpenOffice.org, The Gimp and Inkscape. There are multiple offerings in back-office and network/desktop management solutions, again, free and open and there are numerous excellent development environments, libraries and integration tools to enable unlimited customisation.

There are now plenty of big companies like Novell, IBM, Sun HP, and even Oracle, providing Linux desktop products and enterprise level support services. For the smaller business there are now companies that provide the support services, knowledge and skills that suit the SME sector (like our own business, The Open Learning Centre), there are huge numbers of students leaving University having worked on and engaged in the Open Source community which should help to round out the support side. And of course there is the Open Source community itself. I know of know other place where I can drop a quick email about a problem I’m having, or a question about configuration for example, which gives me consistently, fast and accurate assistance. Bugs are generally caught, logged and fixed with frightening speed and courtesy too.

Is Linux ready for the Desktop? Undoubtedly yes.

Will 2008 be the year it really takes off? I don’t know but I really do hope so. The only reasons it might not are fear and ignorance. Two issues which are easily surmountable.

Fear? Just show them, or better still give them a copy and don’t forget to tell them that they are free to copy and redistribute it too.

Ignorance? Just tell people about Open Source…

“Ignorance is bliss” the old adage goes. I think as far as OSS is concerned, that should be “Ignorance is expensive”.

1 According to the Wikipedia a Crore denotes 10 million http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crore and you get about 40 Rs to the US dollar. So they are saving a huge amount of money however you look at it.

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6 Comments

  • Will Linux explode the Microsoft mystique on the desktop?

    I don’t think many businesses are going to instantly migrate their installed investment, data and habit-honed user bases over to Linux just because it’s free, easy and similar. Platform migration tends to be costly and labor intensive, but you have to admit there are previously unavailable possibilities. Along with the excellent open source productivity softwares packaged with a Linux distro is the invention of the live-CD. With available tools, tailored live-CD’s can be designed to fit a user group like school kids or business travelers. The portable element will make a big difference, I think. You can also use live-CD Linux to rescue failed MS OS occupied hard drives.

    There are two things that are needed. The realization that Microsoft is not “required” to compute or to connect and “open file formats” that are not beholden to any platform. Data should be freed from the vendor platform commitment.

    Since the GUI is the thing that people use and has become as common and as similar as an ink pen, folks should be taught it doesn’t matter the OS behind it to use it.

    Give every school kid a backpack, a pair of shoes and a live-CD of Linux. Kids should be groomed to think and choose, not just be potential customers of MS or Apple.
    Word processor, spreadsheet and database use should be taught early and used continually. Tools should be cheap or free, Linux can do that.

    Put Linux in public libraries and every institution concerned with gov and public funding or is strapped for cash or tight in the budget.

    Promote Linux as a green alternative with cost benefits, a solution to the “digital divide” and a global computing tool. We shouldn’t have to wait for Mr.Gates to be charitable or make a contract with us. We shouldn’t need to have hardware and software designed to commit us to Mr.Jobs company for life.

    Put “The Linux Code”, “Revolution OS” and “The Free Software Movement” movies on public television or the history channel so that folks can see that Linux and Open Source was part of the “Silicon Valley” era and that Jobs and Gates were not alone. Tell the Linux story on television, not just the internet. Write printed books and journals on Linux Applications, if you explain it, they will come. Once average Joe knows, his life will be different. We, the Linux community should not depend on users jumping ship because of dissatisfaction or user curiosity as the motivator to use Linux. Linux should not be the best kept secret. That would be very “closed source” of us.

    My choices, Xubuntu, Wolvix, DreamLinux and Puppy Linux.

    It is so good to hear positive news from folks who appreciate Linux. I will check back with your site to be encouraged, thanks.

  • […] I told you so The gendarmerie’s 70,000 desktops currently use Microsoft’s Windows XP […]

  • […] * Linux: Is 2008 The Year Of The Desktop? – It really does appear as though we are approaching that point of critical mass, where something other than Windows could become a dominant desktop OS. Apple has just recorded their best ever quarter, but now, we also have that bastion of conservative enterprise solutions, IBM, jumping in to support open source and using Ubuntu as it’s base. A firm the size of IBM doesn’t do things like this lightly, or “just for fun.” This means there must be serious demand from their enterprise customers for a change; and it’s a big change. Is Linux ready for the Desktop? Undoubtedly yes. http://www.theopensourcerer.com/2008/01/27/linux-is-2008-the-year-of-the-desktop/ […]

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  • ArtInvent says:

    I actually don’t think there will ever be a ‘year of the Linux desktop’. Individuals and companies will and are slowly adopting Linux and I believe we will slowly chip away at good ol’ MS. Big ships turn slowly, and this is one very big ship indeed. Right now I believe Linux is as good as MS overall. But for people to switch over en masse and overcome the ‘better the devil you know’ syndrome, Linux has to be significantly better in almost every respect. And even when that happens – and it will – lots and lots of people will still resist change just because it’s change.

  • […] not cost. Despite some of the great advantages Linux has on the desktop, for example, it has never taken off, despite the fact that you can get it for free and Windows is a large (to my mind) percentage of […]

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