Industry murmurs about a lack of commercial support for Linux are justified, according to Education in the Workplace Institute director Ihian Mackenzie who believes the "free" nature of Linux is stifling its penetration in the business market.
Mackenzie also says there are not enough skills available to administer Linux systems appropriately.
"How can an open source operating system and applications library ever get commercial support when essentially they are free or cheap?" he said. "Only free-wheeling specialists are prepared to work on the development but they have no focus. So instead of facing up to the perennial failure of co-operative type organizations, they rail against the commercial developers."
After unsuccessfully trying to install three Linux distributions on older Intel and Alpha systems, Mackenzie was left wondering why "Windows variations clearly state the hardware limitations" but Linux does not.
"I have yet to discover any hardware support for the Linux distributions and do not expect to find any because the distributions are sold at a price that will not provide support," he said.
"A relevant ideology comparison is the Wilderness Society versus Forests NSW: both have merit but the stridency of the Wilderness Society overwhelms the value contributed by harvesting and regenerating our forests. With Linux versus the proprietary operating systems and applications, we have a lot of very clever IT independents proclaiming their hatred of the corporations but not really contributing anything socially worthwhile."
That said, Mackenzie proclaims himself not to be a follower of Microsoft ideologies.
"I object to the licensing rip-offs - $1220 for five Terminal Service licences that have taken very few resources to develop - but they work," he said.
"I can, using Microsoft's products, continue to lift my client's productivity. And much of the Microsoft marketing material is nonsense. I have just gone through this with Share Point which behaves nothing like the marketing material. But we can get support whereas with Linux, support becomes a black hole."
Sydney-based Linux support provider Custom Technology's managing director Gordon Hubbard said it is important to understand the difference between the open source development model involving code sharing, and the commercial model which turns the output of open source development and turns it into a deployable product.
Hubbard described Mackenzie's comments as generalizations that don't apply to the whole Linux and open source community.
"There is open source development on one hand and deployment on the other," he said. "If you want a business solution you should stick to a product that is suited to you. You need to have the right implementation strategy around things that are 'productized'."
Regarding Mackenzie's hardware support claims, Hubbard said these are false and Linux distributions like Red Hat and SuSE specifically say what hardware is supported.
"The major hardware vendors provide lots of information for Linux support," Hubbard said. "There is also commercial software for Linux that has the same support as other platforms.