Intel chief executive Craig Barrett concedes that Linux has its uses, but doesn't see much of a future for it on the desktop until it can compete with Windows in the number of applications available.
Barrett's comments, made during a visit to London on Wednesday, reflect a fundamental and deepening division in the Linux world: while Linux is seeing startling success in the server market, it has yet to make much headway when it comes to mass-market desktops.
Linux advocates believe the desktop will be conquered in due time, having seen the operating system grow from nothing to its current prominence in just a few years, but sceptics say Linux is destined to remain in its current niche, for which it is well suited.
Barrett, leader of the world's largest semiconductor company, said he falls into the latter category. "The role of Linux is not so much in the desktop but in the server or back office," he said. "It is not made for the general purpose PC."
He said the crucial thing is for Linux to come up with a body of applications to compare with the tens of thousands available for Windows, and until then, it will have "no appreciable place on the desktop".
His comments echoed those of computer maker Dell last month, which said that Linux is likely to stick to the server market. Hewlett-Packard, on the other hand, long a Linux booster, is backing several desktop-Linux initiatives and sells Linux on some desktop PCs sold in developing countries.
However Intel, unlike software goliath Microsoft, does not reject Linux out of hand. The chip maker has been talking up Linux for years and has actively supported efforts to port Linux to its 64-bit architecture, IA-64. Most Linux servers run on Intel hardware, though many of them are not sold with Linux pre-installed.
While a significant percentage of Web servers run Linux, the exact figures are in dispute. Research firm IDC says Linux runs about one-third of servers, while rival company Gartner Dataquest put the figure at 8.6 percent.
Based on its sudden advent in the server arena, Linux is considered to be the strongest contender to seriously challenge Microsoft's Windows on the desktop. A few organisations, such as Ximian and the KDE and GNOME foundations, are continuing to adapt Linux to the desktop environment, but the wind was blown out of the sails of many such initiatives with the bursting of the dot-com investment bubble.
Find out how the open-source movement is revolutionising the high-tech world at ZDNet UK's Linux Lounge.
Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the Linux lounge forum