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Perens predicts desktop surge, promotes user-driven enterprise Linux

In a speech at the first Desktop Linux Consortium conference, Bruce Perens predicted 30% Linux desktop penetration by 2006 and called for a user-driven enterprise version of Linux.

TYNGSBORO, Mass. -- Widespread business use of Linux on the desktop is just around the corner, said vocal open source advocate Bruce Perens on Monday at the Desktop Linux Consortium's first conference, which was dedicated to enterprise adoption of Linux on the desktop.

Perens, the consortium's executive director, said during his keynote address that Linux will achieve nearly 30% penetration into the business desktop by 2006. Some users, however, weren't as optimistic.

"I don't think it will go that quickly," said Greg Rundlett, CTO of the Knowledge Institute of East Kingston, N.H. He said there was no "killer app" motivating customers to move to Linux. But he agreed that other factors -- such as security concerns and digital rights management -- would cause businesses to look for alternatives to Microsoft.

Users, meanwhile, look forward to increased freedom from proprietary software.

Ed Selvaraj, a Linux and Unix systems administrator at a nonprofit agency in Watertown, Mass., said that he would like to see his company move to Linux on the desktop because he is "sick of Microsoft." He said, "There are two camps: people who want to topple Microsoft, and people who want a good product." He is hopeful that Linux will become more user-friendly.

Perens first discussed the quick rise in acceptability that Linux experienced between 1991, when Linus Torvalds was working on his "toy" kernel, to its current status as the "standard server in enterprise computing." He pointed out that, while many software vendors have begun to view their customers as property, Linux has been developed not by vendors, but by users.

According to Perens, the Linux desktop has early potential for customers who are not necessarily tied to a particular vendor. He predicted that enterprise adoption would begin with large companies -- such as Wal-Mart -- that use customized business applications. Next will come companies that have decided they have "all the software they need" to run all their applications in a particular desktop, followed by those who decide they can use OpenOffice.

Perens also denounced the rise of what he called "proprietary open source" -- that is, vendor-supplied Linux distributions that are expensive and force customers to be tied to an "odious" contract, forbidding them to alter the code. Perens said this is "the state of at least one Linux distribution today."

He said that a major problem with this distribution model is that the product is made by people other than those selling it.

"The business of making a Linux distribution is only marginally economically viable," Perens said. "I think the way that we should view SuSE, Red Hat and other distribution companies is as service providers. A service business works best for customers when there are multiple, competing vendors."

He called for a new model of user-supported enterprise Linux. This user-driven Linux should involve multiple, independent support vendors and "nothing held back from the free version" of a distribution. The function of distributions would be to add value as services for particular industries. Perens blamed the failure of service provider LinuxCare on its premature arrival in the market and its intention of being a monolithic provider.

Concerning SCO Group, Perens said, "They'll be annoying for a while, and then we'll be OK."

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