Australian resellers are optimistic Linux has a decent chance of becoming a viable desktop operating system following its success as a reliable server operating system and growing industry support.
Corel began the desktop Linux push last week at the LinuxWorld conference in San Jose by unveiling a desktop version of Linux that mimics features in Microsoft's Windows operating system.
Meanwhile, it was reported last week that Dell has become the first major PC vendor to offer Red Hat Linux 6.0 - on select, certified configurations of Dell OptiPlex business desktop computers, PowerEdge servers and Precision WorkStations.
The company is eyeing Linux for the high-end consumer PC next.
Meanwhile, Corel Linux is being aimed at the "enthusiast" who wants to try Linux on their desktop, said Erich Forler, Corel's product development manager, who demonstrated a prototype of the software at the LinuxWorld conference.
"We set out to create a version of Linux that is easy to use, easy to install, and easy to integrate into existing Windows environments, be that in the home or the office," said Forler.
A beta version of Corel Linux is due for release next month, with a commercial release scheduled for later this year. The OS will be available as a stand-alone product for less than $US100, or bundled with the upcoming WordPerfect Office for Linux, which is expected in early 2000, Forler said.
The question for Australian resellers is will Linux succeed on the desktop when many attempts to compete with Windows have failed in the past?
According to one Melbourne-based PC assembler already on the Linux trail, Linux desktop PCs have found a market niche among home users and small businesses.
Michael Geller, managing director of Compu Centre, told ARN his company sells between 60 and 90 PCs a week, with around 10 per cent shipped with a Linux operating system.
Geller said the advantage for the home or small business customer is that Linux is much cheaper to roll out than Windows and a growing range of office and graphics applications are now built for Linux, such as the Microsoft Office-compatible Star Office.
The biggest inhibitors to Linux growth, however, are the need for more software development and existing Windows users' reluctance to learn Linux. "A lot of people are so scared of computers," he said.
But as Linux becomes more user-friendly, he believes customers "are happy to start to learn", which in turn should guarantee a constant sales stream.
Con Zymaris, managing director of IT consultant Cybersource, is also enthusiastic about Corel's Linux initiatives and believes the operating system itself faces a healthy future.
"Corel would have one of the better placed minds for confronting Linux on the desktop," he said.
"It will give them a new universe to market their core [software] products."
Zymaris believes Linux faces a much better chance than previous operating system challenges to Windows because of its open and robust nature, and growing industry support from the likes of Dell.
If fact, Zymaris said he has been in contact with around 80 resellers who are "very, very keen" about Linux on the desktop.
However, Karl Cremen, Parramatta branch manager of retail chain Office National, told ARN Linux will not take off on the desktop without a significant marketing push such as that which accompanies Microsoft products.
"I haven't come across Linux very much at all except for the tech-head market," he said. "I've had nobody ask for it." Cremen said Linux might be technically superior, but that is no guarantee of success.
"I don't see it making any sort of serious impact," he said.