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Gartner’s Luke-warm on the Linux Desktop

Gartner Dataquest Inc.’s August 8th Linux on the Desktop: The Whole Story finds in most situations that spending money on a massive Linux desktop migration, “that won’t show a return on investment (ROI) within two to three years usually does not make sense.” That said, the authors add, “there are situations in which a move to Linux OS on the desktop will deliver ROI and does makes sense.”And what are these? According to Gartner, there aren’t many of them. In general, companies shouldn’t look to changing their desktops because of “Linux hype, myths and anti-Microsoft sentiment.” Instead, “an enterprise with older versions of Windows should estimate the costs and benefits of: 1) a project to upgrade its current environment to Windows XP, and 2) a project to move to Linux, and compare the ROI of the two alternatives before choosing a platform.”Gartner concludes that Windows is the better choice because of its lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for knowledge workers. But, Gartner’s analysts point out, “Too often, enterprises try to link the client-OS decision to the office product decision; these are two separate determinations.” In addition, Gartner add, open source office suites like StarOffice or OpenOffice can be used to lower the TCO in some circumstances on Windows.That said, Gartner recommends the Linux desktop primarily for technical desktops and “enterprises whose users require a narrow range of applications, such as data entry workers and some structured-task workers,” because of this group’s “far-lower migration costs to move from Windows to Linux.”

he Linux Office Supporters’ Take

Linux desktop supporters agree with most of Gartner’s premises, but disagree with the conclusions. Jeremy White, interim chair of the Desktop Linux Consortium, a newly formed trade group advocating desktop Linux, says, “I think that Gartner does make some good and intelligent points. They’re wise to make StarOffice or OpenOffice vs. Microsoft Office, a separate business choice than an OS choice. They go on to assert that the problems with Linux on the desktop are often application issues, and we agree that a valid point.”

But, White goes on to say, “Desktop Linux is for more people than Gartner would have you believe today. They project out a cost of supporting Linux desktop and retooling as a dramatic increase over a Windows desktop upgrade. The idea that Linux’s desktop administration is harder than Windows desktop administration is bunk. The inverse of that is the case. Linux tends to scale better.” For example, “one insurance company in Germany uses a single boot stack to run 8,000 desktops, with local desktop customizations with a total IT staff of four. If that’s not lower TCO, I don’t know what is.”

Jon Peer, vice-president of marketing for Novell/Ximian, agrees “with how Gartner segments the market, but there are some segments that are missing and they underplay some cost considerations.” For example, Peer believes that even while Gartner believes that Linux would work well for transactional workers, the savings are even greater than the ones Gartner cites.

In addition, Peer points out that Gartner missed one segment: the international desktop user. “Public sector agencies, especially in the European Union, see the adoption of the Linux desktop as an issue of state.” If they use Linux, they don’t have to export hard currency to the US, and at the same time they support local system integrators and VARs. This isn’t,” he continues, “anti-Microsoft, its pro-local businesses.” Yes, he agrees, “international is a special case, but it is a real market.”

Peer also says that Gartner doesn’t give enough credence to the economic impact of Windows continuing security and virus problems. And, that Gartner underestimates, “the degree of concern customers have about the increased costs of the Microsoft Software Assurance/Licensing 6 program and its end of life policies for Windows 95 and Office 95.”

Sun has recently introduced the Java Desktop System, which, despite the name is a Linux-basd office suite running on SuSE Linux. Nancy Lee, Sun’s group marketing tanager for desktop solutions, “To put this context, Linux on the desktop is still in the early stages of the enterprise adoption curve. It is only in recent years that must-have desktop applications have become viable on Linux, such as StarOffice, GNOME, Mozilla, and Evolution. These applications are sufficient for many enterprise scenarios such as call centers, where knowledge workers who need only a discrete set of applications can be quickly productive.”

She goes on to say, “There are hundreds more open source applications such as project management that are available today, and improving everyday as we speak, as well as new Java applications being developed that can run on Linux. These additional apps will provide the foundation that will allow the expert users to move over to Linux in the very near future (as predicted by the rapid growth over the next 5 years by industry analysts like IDC).”

Joe Eckert, SuSE’s vice-president of corporate communications, thinks, “That many clients are looking for freedom from licensing and from mandatory upgrades.”

Other Linux desktop players, like Dr. Frederick H. Berenstein, co-chairman of Xandros, a leading Linux desktop provider, thinks that Gartner doesn’t emphasis that just because you have a Linux desktop doesn’t mean you can’t have most Windows office applications, “It’s precisely in recognition of the potential costs cited in the Gartner report that the Xandros Desktop OS was designed to provide a familiar working environment that, when required, can flawlessly operate Microsoft Office without Windows. A company which recently purchased 150 Xandros Desktop licenses to replace Windows 98/2000 wrote to tell us that they saved $300,000 over what it would have cost to migrate to Windows XP.”

Xandros does this with the use of CodeWeavers’ CrossOver Office technology. Xandros customers aren’t the only ones that see the advantages of Windows applications on Linus desktops.

Rick Lehrbaum, editor-in-chief of DeviceForge, which publishes DesktopLinux.com, comments, “These days I run SuSE 8.2 and make frequent use of CodeWeavers’ Crossover Office to launch MS Word, PowerPoint, and Excel for when I need the mostest in compatibility with Windows-users’ documents. But a good 95% of my daily work is without even those hybrid situations.”

Eckert, agrees that being able to have your knowledge worker who’s an Excel whiz with his customized macros work with Excel on Linux using CrossOver is great, but “the training to get up to speed on the Linux desktop today is significantly less than any prior Linux desktops. I use Open Office, and friends and family are amazed at how similar its look and feel is to Microsoft Office.”

The SuSE VP also thinks that you can’t downplay the importance of the transactional, thin-client Linux desktop. “It’s hitting Linux right in its sweet spot.”

Finally, despite what Gartner may think of the Linux desktop market, Eckert insists, “We’re finding a groundswell of customers who are now looking for Linux on the desktop and we already have customers who are deploying well over 100,000 thin-client and fat-desktops.” For SuSE, at least, the whole story on the Linux desktop is that it’s already proving profitable for both them and their corporate customers.

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