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Perens: Companies finding desktop space for Linux, part 1

SAN FRANCISCO -- While others predicted that enterprise adoption of Linux desktops would take off in 2004, open source advocate Bruce Perens took a longer view. He sticks by his earlier prediction that Linux will run on 30% of enterprise desktops by 2006. In the first of a two-part interview, he discusses the Linux desktop "state of the union" and why Microsoft's hold on the office desktop will weaken. Perens, who is the primary author of The Open Source Definition, will deliver his third biannual "Open Source State of the Union" address today at LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in San Francisco.


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Novell is trying to initiate more corporate Linux desktop adoption


Red Hat has gotten into the Linux desktop game  

This year started out with great expectations for corporate adoption of Linux on the desktop. How has that panned out?
Linux is the system of choice for the engineering field. A lot of scientists who were using Linux on the server are finding it easier to put it on the desktop and not have the dichotomy.

To a great extent, the office is still owned by Microsoft, but we see people outside of the technical world, like the government of Munich, moving to Linux. A number of educational organizations have chosen Linux to get away from Microsoft license audits and all of the ugly stuff there. Besides licensing issues, what issue should be driving corporations away from the Windows desktop?
The lack of robustness of the systems is the other main complaint. Users are sick of push screens, and Linux has recently become very good at avoiding them. Although, I won't say that Linux will never crash.

It is an interesting point that Microsoft could be a crash-free if they just owned all of their device drivers. I think that is where the main problem with Windows lies. Those source device drivers are a big problem for Microsoft and would indeed be a big problem for Linux if there were more of them. In another conversation, we talked some about Mozilla's maturation. How does that help the Linux desktop?
It is interesting what is happening with Mozilla Firefox, in that Firefox aims to be an improvement on your present browser experience with, say, Internet Explorer. I think we will see more people who may currently be using Internet Explorer switching to Firefox. I'll bet that Macintosh users will probably be switching to Firefox.

So, Mozilla is helping the cause of the Linux desktop a great deal, and the improvements in are helping, too.

I think we are at the point where having Mozilla, OpenOffice and a couple of other open source programs provides all the functionality that most unsophisticated computer users [use] in their job. After all, 80% of the people who use a computer don't venture outside of their Web, e-mail, presentation and office suite. Open source software on the Linux desktop handles all of that now. So, in the corporate world, what types of businesses are ripe for Linux on the desktop?
It should be the first choice of any office where they have control over all of their applications. If they don't have outside applications that they depend on that are compatible with Linux and that are provided in open source, it is very easy to cross over.

It is an interesting point that Microsoft could be a crash-free if they just owned all of their device drivers. I think that is where the main problem with Windows.
Bruce Perens
Linux advocate
I've talked to folks at several companies, such as Automated Trading Desk, who have switched over to a Linux and Open Office desktop and have not had difficult transitions. Their only problem has been in some applications that can't be set free from Microsoft Word. Is that going to continue being a problem?
There are some things that Linux is just not supporting today. I don't think that anyone is planning to do Visual Basic in open source. The fact is the customers don't go there. So it is just not really priority for us. A lot of the reasons that Microsoft customers would stay with the Microsoft platform is because they are already using a Microsoft program with a Microsoft specific language like Visual Basic.

Visual Basic does not work well with Linux; therefore, Linux is expensive for those customers to use. It is a point that is made over and over in Microsoft case studies. Well, the point that should be made there is that customers made a bad choice in programming language and locked themselves into a single product and now they can't get off. Do you see Novell's strong play in the Linux desktop area as a catalyst for increased adoption?
I certainly welcome Novell into the fold, but I'm out to convert them and the other larger companies to make it possible for the customer to get a Linux system without having to depend on a very large company. They should make it possible for customers to be able to support themselves with local companies.

I welcome any vendor into the world of open source. I don't want to see it become a world where Linux just comes from Novell and Red Hat. So, I guess my platform is, 'Yeah. They are nice, but I want to make sure that we can live without them.'

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