Senior IBM executives have signalled that a few key government departments moving to Linux on the desktop will have a domino-like effect on the rest of the public sector.
Speaking at an IBM round-table event in London on Thursday, IBM's public sector business development executive Jeremy Wray said that the single biggest factor holding back government departments from migrating to the Linux desktop was inertia. "At the moment public sector departments lack a compelling reason to act," he said.
But Wray claimed that next year, this inertia would be overcome by several high-profile migrations to desktop Linux, which would act as a green light to other government departments that may be evaluating the open-source OS but reluctant to move first.
"There is lots of interest in the desktop at the moment but little take-up. It's my guess that several large departments will move on to the desktop -- they will make the move and then the others will follow," he said.
Wray also claimed that the UK public sector was under increasing pressure to cut costs, particularly through initiatives such as the wide-reaching Gershon report into public sector efficiency, and so any move to Linux would be driven by purely financial and pragmatic reasons.
"It's a very British thing. It's a pragmatic decision; there isn't a philosophical stance on Linux. They are saying, 'Show me the money'," he said.
The general uptake of Linux among public sector organisations was given a shot in the arm by the publication last month of a report from the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) endorsing the open-source OS.
For its part, IBM has avoided making any strong commitments around the Linux desktop, unlike rivals such as Novell and Sun.
IBM claims its Global Services consulting division is in talks with several high-profile UK customers about Linux deployments on the desktop through its "Open-Client" strategy but that it recommends companies take a technology-agnostic approach.
"This is not a religious argument for us. We don't believe that one size fits all. If it makes business sense we would recommend [migration to Linux]. If it doesn't then we won't," said John Palfreyman, Linux and grid services executive, IBM.
Palfreyman said that IBM had conducted this open assessment of desktop strategy internally but would not be following Sun's and Novell's commitments to migrate as many internal desktops to Linux as possible.
Novell claims its internal migration to the SuSE Desktop, which it calls 'eating its own dog-food", across the majority of its organisation has substantially improved the quality of the consulting services it can offer its customers.
"The most important thing for us is that with a project like this, until you do it yourself you don't figure out what the issues are," said Novell chief executive Jack Messman in a recent interview with ZDNet UK.
Early this year it appeared that IBM may have been about to initiate its own internal migration. A November memo from IBM chief information officer Bob Greenberg said IBM chairman Sam Palmisano has "challenged the IT organisation, and indeed all of IBM, to move to a Linux-based desktop before the end of 2005". But the memo was later denied by an IBM spokesperson who claimed IBM was only planning to evaluate the technology.