At last month’s LinuxCon event, I enjoyed talks on desktop Linux from the likes of Dirk Hohndel and IBM’s Bob Sutor, but to completely honest, I wasn’t quite sure I understood their thinking when they implored desktop Linux creators and supporters to look beyond Windows replacement and emulation. I get the idea of being different or better as opposed to just a replacement, but I wasn’t quite sure how this would translate to customers or in the market. However, after the recent announcement from IBM and Canonical of a Linux-based desktop package and some recent press inquiries, I’m beginning to see the light.
You see, it has less to do with the the user interface and more to do with the user. Instead of focusing on Windows familiarity, the latest strategy takes advantage of users in a position, whether by trade or preference or chance, to use Linux, provide some savings and maybe even go further in supporting themselves. These are the new Linux desktop users in enterprise and business. While Windows 7 and Microsoft’s dominance will likely continue to hold most of the desktop, there are a handful of significant differences this time around:
1.) The IBM-Canonical Client for Smart Work — a package of Ubuntu Linux, Eclipse, and IBM Lotus and other collaboration and productivity software — was originally rolled out and intended for emerging markets, initially Africa. However, based on customer queries and demand, it is now being offered in the U.S. I believe this may indicate that America, while still behind Europe and other parts of the world in adopting desktop Linux, is keeping up with desktop Linux growth, progress and demand.
2.) Economic conditions are driving reassessments of all enterprise and smaller business IT and planning, including desktop, laptop, netbook and other PCs. This does not mean that desktop Linux will necessarily benefit, but if the server side is any indication, it will gain considerably more interest and use.
3.) New models are changing the way enterprise and other users use a PC. Virtual appliances, virtual desktops and cloud computing all usher in radically new desktop models and make Linux more likely to enter the picture (whether or not customers are aware of it). The movement of the desktop support from the IT helpdesk to the datacenter also bodes well for Linux, which has a strong foothold and following on the server. Furthermore, consistency of Linux across PCs, netbooks, datacenters and networks may also make desktop Linux hardware, efficiency, energy and support savings more dramatic and appealing.
4.) New vendors (non-Linux vendors) will be offering more Linux. We see a range of IT players — service providers, hosters, system integrators, VARs and others — increasingly using Linux and delivering Linux to their customers, who may or may not be aware they are running Linux. This is where there may be most opportunity for desktop Linux among SMBs.
5.) Finally, Windows 7 and the need to upgrade hardware and continue to license OS software and pay for upgrades arrives at a time when it is no longer the norm to refresh desktops every two or three years, and it is increasingly attractive to find a Linux alternative to push licensing costs over to support, where there is great need. This may be one of the last efforts with this older model, particularly considering all of the trends mentioned above with Linux.