Exclusive: Linux on the desktop after all?

SuSE says the desktop is in sight and Linux is closer to MS than we could have believed. Will Knight reports

Linux is ready to fulfil the requirements of most desktop users, according to the chief technical officer of SuSE Linux and founder member of the XFree86 organisation, Dirk Hohndel.

The comments follow widespread reports that Hohndel's boss, SuSE chief executive Roland Dyroff, has said the opposite, claiming that Linux still isn't ready for desktop use. Hohndel, keen to clear up the mess, explained to ZDNet in an exclusive Eye2Eye interview -- to be published next week -- that Dyroff's statement had been misconstrued. "It was a conditional statement taken as a general statement," said Hohndel.

Choosing his words carefully, Hohndel explained that while Linux on the desktop is viable, there remains work to be done before the dream of mass market acceptance is a reality. "Linux is well equipped for the desktop marketplace," says Hohndel. "It's just that there are areas in this market where Linux still has more to add and more to learn. Linux today is very much capable of filling the requirements of most desktop users. The main thing here is that Linux is a very good choice for technically interested users. If you're talking about grandma and granddaddy using a computer, then you have to ask, is it the right choice?"

And while your grandparents continue grappling with Windows, Hohndel focuses on another, as yet untapped, source for Linux growth on the desktop. "If you want to win the desktop, you have to look at games. What do you need an Athlon 900 for? Not for Microsoft Office. More and more games are going to be available on Linux." While Hohndel wouldn't comment on details, it's clear SuSE has the gaming market in its sights. "I'm sure that this Christmas there will be a lot of games," Hohndel added.

So will Linux ever make any sort of dent into Microsoft's formidable 90 percent market share on the desktop? Hohndel reckons the current trend toward the open source model has only one conclusion: that Linux will become as prevalent as Windows on the desktop within the next two to three years. "I believe these two forces will soon be of similar magnitude," he said.

Hohndel does not, however, rule out the possibility of Linux muscling in on Microsoft's action much sooner. "Any predictions of time in the past have been so incredibly wrong. Had you asked me three years ago when Linux would be the prevailing OS in Web serving, I would have said five years and I would have been wrong. I would say two to three years [to take on Microsoft on the desktop], but you never know," he said.

Microsoft was unavailable to comment at press time.

Linux on the desktop? Is Hohndel right on a) games and b) 3-year timeframe? Tell the Mailroom

Take me to the Linux Lounge.