Just three years ago, few IT people were thinking about the use of Linux on the desktop at their companies.
But today, as Linux has moved into more corporate IT plans and systems, desktop Linux and the widespread use of the operating system isn't as far-fetched.
As the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo kicked off in San Francisco on Monday, new ideas about desktop Linux use will be one focus of the event, as advocates showcase recent Linux deployment wins over Microsoft's Windows operating system in the city of Munich and elsewhere. "There's a lot of examples where it's becoming more widespread," said Warwick Davies, a group vice president of IDG World Expo, which hosts the annual show.
Dan Kusnetsky, an analyst at IDC, who has just co-authored a report on the subject, sees several ways Linux can make inroads into the desktop market.
Consumers interested in moving away from the Windows operating system could come to see Linux as a viable alternative -- if it can support their need for Internet access, e-mail and access to Web-based applications, he said. And it could gain popularity among users hoping for a more secure alternative to Windows, he said.
Developers of platform-neutral software such as Java-based applications and Web services might also come to favor Linux over Windows -- if it allows them to create those applications using appropriate tools and if the price is right, he said.
Kusnetsky also noted that the needs of many workers could be met with any operating system that provides common applications such as a Web browser, a Java virtual machine and reliable e-mail agent. So organizations could supply those workers with a system running Linux as the underlying client operating environment for either client/server applications or Web-centric applications, he said.
Despite those possibilities, knowledge workers are likely to remain tied to Windows-centric packaged applications, personal productivity software and development tools, and will be the last to move to Linux, according to Kusnetsky.
IDC predicts that Linux will grow from a 2.7 percent market share, with 3.4 million paid license shipments in 2002, to a 6 percent share with more than 10 million shipments in 2007, he said.
"The whole industry is starting to wake up to the possibility of Linux on the desktop," said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H.
"Folks like Sun (Microsystems) and HP (Hewlett-Packard) are enthusiastic about it. But even companies like IBM that have historically said it's a server phenomenon have seen the genuine interest not only in Asia but in large European and U.S. companies and are starting to wake up to it," he said. "But it's still in its early days. To say Windows on (the) desktop is dominant is even too soft of a statement."
Even so, this year's LinuxWorld is expected to generate a lot of interest among Linux users, advocates and vendors. More than 190 exhibitors are signed up for the show at the Moscone Center, up from about 135 last year, said Davies. Major vendors, including IBM, HP, Novell and its SUSE Linux division, Red Hat, Intel, Computer Associates International, Dell and Oracle, will be on the show floor displaying the latest Linux products and offering implementation strategies.
Davies said increased attention on the security of Linux is a given, as well as a look at bringing Linux into corporate environments without forcing companies to scrap existing systems.
Matthew Szulik, chairman and CEO of Red Hat, will present the opening keynote speech tomorrow on "Freedom of Choice," which is one of the company's ongoing mantras. Szulik will be joined by a late addition, customer Chris Hjelm, chief technology officer at online travel vendor Orbitz, who will talk about the company's migration to Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
Also speaking at the conference will be HP Linux Vice President Martin Fink, who will talk about the successful use of Linux and other open-source software in business computing, and Michael Rocha, an Oracle Corp. vice president who will explain how Linux can modernize and automate data centers while increasing the quality of customer support and lowering costs.
Bruce Perens, a longtime open-source activist and co-founder of the Open Source Initiative and the Linux Standard Base, said this year's event will show how far the operating system has come in the past three or four years.
"The Linux desktop is real now," Perens said. "A lot of enterprise businesses are considering it for new workstations."
About 11,000 attendees gathered for the show last year, and organizers said they expect a similar number this year. LinuxWorld runs through Thursday.