With the failure of Microsoft Vista and the launch of Windows 7 creating a disruptive moment in the desktop market and opening up opportunities for Linux and Apple, the two main suitors for the desktop, some interesting new research is just out about Linux on the enterprise desktop.
The bottom line? It's a lot easier to roll out Linux desktops to users who only do one thing, known in the trade as transaction workers, and for professional workers. And attitudes are swinging in favour of Linux -- but it's no longer just a technological so much as a cultural and financial decision.
Freeform Dynamics's new survey "of 1,275 IT professionals from the UK, USA, and other geographies" has just been published. Two-thirds of respondents said that cutting costs was a prime mover behind their decisions to switch to Linux on the desktop but that user acceptance was a key consideration in the decision to do so.
Generally, the survey finds that it's pretty easy to roll out Linux desktops: "For the majority of application types, including office tools, email clients and browsers, there is a strong consensus that the needs of most users can be met by native Linux equivalents to traditional Windows solutions."
The main reasons in favour of Linux aren't primarily the traditional arguments about lack of malware, though. The key attraction of Linux is its lower cost - especially not paying the Microsoft desktop tax, although issues such as security, stability and reliability are also factors.
Against it are cultural/political issues, user resistance and application availability. I don't think user resistance should be discounted as, if users don't like it, then they won't help. Interesting how much that tells you about the power that end users still wield, despite all the talk in recent years about re-centralisation, about enforcement of policies and so on. When the cost of dozens of calls to the helpdesk come out of your budget, that's when it natters...
As well as the cost of support if a user has problems, it's not so long ago that companies were expected to provide training for users, teaching them how to use the PC on their desk. A million years ago, I even wrote a book about it... So why don't companies provide that training any more? Because users train themselves: most have a PC at home, and it runs Windows. Change to Linux and you're suddenly sliding down the snake to 1990.
The report concludes that there now exists "a maturing of attitudes in relation to Linux, shifting the previous focus on pure technical considerations to a more balanced view of what really matters in a business context."
In spite of that, I'd be surprised if the number of enterprise Linux desktops exceeds 20 percent in five years' time.