In late July, IBM rolled out a $130 Lotus Notes client that runs on the Linux desktop--seven years after introducing Notes for Linux servers. Why do this now, and what are the prospects for desktop Linux?
Although he describes the Linux desktop market as "nascent," Ed Brill, head of IBM's worldwide Lotus Notes sales, sees demand growing. IDC has forecast the market for new and redeployed PCs running Linux to grow to $10 billion and 17 million units by 2008, with an installed base of more than 42.6 million units. IBM has been approached by state and local governments interested in the flexibility of a client that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux (users can switch back and forth).
Some large banks don't plan to move to Windows Vista and are exploring the pros and cons of Linux. "At this point, they're keeping their options open," says Stephen O'Grady, senior analyst at Red Monk, who shares IBM's cautious optimism on Linux. Linux desktop is already appropriate for "light" users, such as those who spend most of their time using e-mail, an Internet browser and a simple document editor (many are available, including the word processor in OpenOffice).
Nonetheless, Linux desktop won't unseat Windows in the near future. "Windows has difficulty unseating Windows," O'Grady points out. "Every time Microsoft releases a new operating system, millions of people worldwide don't switch." Some small businesses still run Windows 98.
The Linux community is shooting for the OS to become a more credible desktop option, rather than an experiment for iconoclasts. With the right IT skills in-house, Linux can provide a lower cost of ownership (licenses are free or cheap). Linux desktops can be locked down, preventing users from downloading buggy software or files containing worms or viruses. Linux desktops have already found their way into environments such as manufacturing floors and libraries. --Penny Crosman