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Linux is dead, long live Linux

The initial euphoria may have faded, but it's just the beginning for Linux as a mass-market contender, says one leading proponent

Dell Computer and other industry giants may be pessimistic about Linux's chances on the desktop, but HP executive and Linux veteran Bruce Perens believes the open source OS will still triumph in the end.

Financiers may be increasingly reluctant to fund companies to come up with a consumer-friendly Linux interface, but that is just a temporary setback, in Perens' view. "[The Linux] desktop is not dead, and will perform in the market as Linux has in the server market -- going from a toy to a curiousity to a contender to having a big piece of the market," he told ZDNet UK.

At one time, any company having anything to do with Linux could expect a huge stock market flotation, but that euphoria has faded along with many other high-tech business plans. While it is making great headway in the server market, Linux is used on less than 2 percent of desktops, which doesn't encourage investors.

Punctuating the new atmosphere was the closure of Linux desktop developer Eazel last week, which burned through about £7.5m and had only a file manager to show for it.

Industry analysts and major players in the PC market, including Dell, say they don't see Linux breaking into the mass market any time in the next few years.

But dismissing Linux for the desktop is shortsighted, says Perens. "Consider the age of the Linux desktop. Development started from zero sometime in 1997. It's almost maturation time for that desktop, and four years is a lot less time than it has taken any other desktop project to get to the level that Gnome or KDE are at," he said in an interview.

Perens is the senior strategist on Linux and open source for Hewlett-Packard, and the company says it is committed to driving Linux into the mass market. For now HP says cost is the biggest issue -- Linux allows HP to sell PCs for lower prices in countries like China because of the lack of operating system licence fees.

Eazel may be gone, but several initiatives are continuing to develop a simpler Linux interface, such as Ximian and the Gnome and KDE foundations. In fact, Eazel's legacy, the file manager, is "a great piece of software", according to Perens, and it will continue to be developed for Gnome.

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