The survey -- conducted by tech expert Graeme Philipson in February -- found that almost two-thirds (61.3 percent) believed the open-source operating system would get "a little" stronger on the desktop, while 22.5 percent said it would get "a lot" stronger.
Philipson said the survey respondent base -- derived from ZDNet databases -- was weighted towards those with an interest in the subject, which he defined as IT users' usage and perception of Linux and related issues at the beginning of 2004.
The survey also found that the open-source operating system was yet to overcome its achilles' heel of perceived lack of support. Respondents gave a very low rating to the statements "Linux is easy to use" and "Linux is [characterised by] good support". However, respondents rated "Linux is here for the long term" very highly, with the system's robustness and security also attracting plaudits. "Linux is ready for mission-critical applications?" attracted only lukewarm support, securing a weighted average of 3.52 out of 5.
The mood of the 582 respondents towards Linux' desktop competitors was not nearly as bullish as it was towards Linux itself, although 55.8 percent said they believed Windows would hold its own. Mac OS was forecast by half to remain stable, while desktop Unix was expected by exactly half of respondents to decline a little and 13.1 percent to fall sharply. Almost two-thirds (62 percent) expected OS/2 to slide sharply.
However, respondents' positive reactions to questions about Linux' desktop potential were buttressed by the fact the open source operating system had far greater potential to grab market share on the desktop than its competitors. According to the survey, Linux failed to measure up to Microsoft as the most used desktop operating system, respondents rating it third overall. Windows XP and other Windows versions were well ahead of the competition, with over 60 per cent of respondents using the operating system on a daily basis. Around one third of the survey respondents indicated that they used Linux daily, while Unix, MS-DOS and Apple Macintosh were used only occasionally and OS/2 hardly ever.
Prominent Linux activist Con Zymaris said the two statistics were hard to compare, as Microsoft had a 14-year advantage over Linux in desktop operations, an area the focus of Linux was now shifting to.
"Linux has had 12 years in development as a server platform, but only 5 years as a desktop platform. When we look back to when Microsoft started shipping Windows in 1985, there was minimal uptake of Windows for the first 6 years," said Zymaris.
The survey also revealed that Web servers were the most common production applications running on Linux, with more than 70 percent of respondents nominating them. Other popular applications included Web development (36.9 percent) and other application development. (34.9 percent). According to the survey, end-user applications and enterprise applications are least likely to be run on Linux.
Respondents were, predictably, extremely upbeat about the future of Linux as a server operating system. Fifty-six point five of respondents foresee it growing stronger, while 32.3 per cent expect it to get much stronger in the future.
Pia Smith, the president of Linux Australia, was predictably anxious to tout Linux' wares, saying the open-source operating system had assumed a substantial role in managing servers and powering the Internet and have done so for many years.
"Given the mass development, corporate buy-in, and maturity of Linux, combined with the excellent business case for open source, it is a natural progression for Linux to become more widely accepted as a reliable option..." said Smith.
More than two-thirds of the survey respondents had used Linux personally, with the greatest single percentage of respondents (29.4 per cent) having used it for more than three years. New users (those who have used Linux for under twelve months) amounted to a relatively small percentage of total respondents, indicating that Linux is well-established within its user base.
Of the 26.3 per cent of respondents who said their organisations had "never used" Linux, 9.5 per cent said they had plans to sample it in the future. Most organisations that currently use Linux are employing it for enterprise (26.5 per cent) and departmental (28.4 per cent) production applications. Less than one-fifth use it for experimental or test aplications, indicating that where it is employed, it tends to be employed for production applications.
Zymaris said he was not surprised with the high percentage of Linux business users, claiming that the only impediment to its adoption was users' adjustment to its technology.
"In the end, business users will acquire technology they feel delivers the best performance and features for their money. Linux has been shown in real world terms to offer the best TCO in most circumstances," Zymaris said.
Smith attributes the popularity of Linux in business use to the management and security advantages a company has when using the system, making it the main alternative to proprietary operating systems.
"On Linux a company or organisation has full control over their IT" said Smith, adding: "There are practically no Linux viruses to be worried about and any patches are developed incredibly fast and available immediately".
Open source DBMS win plaudits
Respondents said they felt that open source database management systems were reasonable alternatives to their established rivals.
"Most (57.4 percent) believe they are there for some applications and some (7.2 percent) believe they are there for all applications," the survey said.
"Only 8.4 percent believe they will never offer an alternative".