The initial excitement about Linux as an alternative to Windows on the desktop has long since cooled, and the most encouraging industry projections don't show the open-source operating system taking off on desktops for several years. But a funny thing has happened over the past year: large organisations have actually started making commitments to Linux desktops, in a trend that is likely to continue in 2004 and pick up steam in the future.
This trend may yet be in its infancy, but industry analysts say it could eventually open up the choices available to businesses, and even consumers.
The hype around desktop Linux mirrored the dot-com boom in the late 1990s, and tailed off about as quickly. But at that time, the idea that Linux distributions such as Red Hat, Mandrake Linux or SuSE Linux could be used on the desktop was mainly hypothetical. The software was available at retail for anyone who wanted it, but those users appeared to be few and far between.
Since then, it's become possible to find actual significant examples of companies and government bodies that have chosen to switch desktops from Windows to Linux, and the operating system is making a small but perceptible impact on desktop OS market share. IDC says Linux's desktop market share has nearly doubled in the past three years, from 1.5 percent at the end of 2000 to 2.8 percent now. Linux is poised to surpass Apple's 2.9 percent of the market, as projected a year ago.
IDC says it is predicting mainstream acceptance of Linux on servers by 2005, but believes desktop acceptance will "only trail slightly" behind servers.
Enthusiasm for Linux on the desktop made significant advances in 2003, particularly among IT giants that had previously backed Linux, but mainly on servers. IBM, Red Hat and HP all made significant desktop-Linux moves in 2003. Industry rumours have suggested IBM, Dell, HP and others may be on the point of rolling out broad-based technical support programmes for Linux desktops, which would make the option more appealing for corporations.
Sun Microsystems recently introduced a low-cost Linux-based desktop operating system aimed at corporations, called Java Desktop System (JDS). SuSE Linux introduced an enterprise-centric desktop solution in mid-2003.