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Linux Desktop Stats: Wrong Question, Wrong Answers

I'm not surprised that desktop Linux has hit the one percent milestone. I'm surprised that anyone takes these numbers seriously in the first place.

I'm not surprised that desktop Linux has hit the one percent milestone. I'm surprised that anyone takes these numbers seriously in the first place.A few weeks ago, NetApplications reported that desktop Linux distros had cracked the one percent market-share barrier. The numbers rated headlines on a number of IT news sites, and they set off a hot debate over whether this spells trouble for Windows or simply demonstrates why Linux is still a fringe player on the PC desktop.

The problem, as some experts have pointed out, is that the Linux distribution model makes a mockery of conventional market-share reporting efforts. That's not exactly hot news, either: Nearly a decade ago, critics were raising exactly the same objections to similar attempts to quantify the desktop Linux user base.

But there is a bigger problem here: Numbers like these say nothing useful about when, where, or why businesses are deploying desktop Linux within their organizations.

Another recent study, however, addresses these questions far more effectively. For starters, "Linux On The Desktop: Lessons From Mainstream Business Adoption," conducted by Freeform Dynamics and sponsored by IBM, works with a sizable statistical sample: 1,275 IT professionals in the United States, Western Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

As a article points out, the report also takes a detailed, balanced look at where desktop Linux deployments are most likely to deliver immediate benefits. While most of the companies surveyed saw desktop Linux as a good fit for general professional users and transaction workers, they also identified other groups, including creative staff and highly mobile professional users as "questionable" migration targets.

The report offers another highly practical bit of advice: Accept that some employees are far more attached to their current desktop setup than others, and plan accordingly. Some users care a great deal about their desktop computing environment and may be emotionally or practically wedded to Windows, said Dale Vile, research director, Freeform Dynamics. The trick is to avoid getting distracted by these, and focus on the users for whom the PC on their desk is simply a tool to get their job done. Migrating a general professional user who only needs to access a couple of central systems, an email inbox and light word processing is pretty straightforward.

The report also supports the notion that Linux is an attractive option for increasingly cost-conscious IT organizations. More than 70 percent of the respondents identified cost as the primary reason for adopting desktop Linux. That jibes with an IDC study in which nearly 50 percent of the companies surveyed said they would increase their use of desktop Linux due to current economic conditions.

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