Linux trails Windows XP slightly in usability: Study

The Linux open-source operating system is about as easy to use as Microsoft Windows XP, says a new study.

Linux is only marginally more difficult for users to learn compared with Windows XP, according to a study carried out by German usability testing agency.

The tests, which compared SuSE Linux 8.2 Professional running the KDE 3.1.2 desktop environment to Windows XP, found that users were able to learn and complete tasks in Linux nearly as quickly as they could in Windows, and in some cases more quickly.

The tests may help to change the common perception of Linux as too technical for ordinary end-users, a key topic as the operating system makes its way onto desktop computers in governments and large businesses. The open-source operating system is considered one of the most dangerous competitors to Microsoft and its Windows desktop monopoly, not least by Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.

According to the Berlin-based research firm Relevantive, the study focused on the usability of both operating systems. A set of tasks, including basic office productivity chores and sending e-mail, were performed by two groups of testers. Sixty testers worked in Linux with open-source applications, while the other 20 users worked with applications in Windows XP. None of the testers had prior knowledge of their assigned operating system.

Each tester was asked how easy it was to finish the tasks. Linux testers took slightly longer time to complete the tasks, at 44 minutes and 49 seconds, while Windows XP testers took an average time of 41 minutes and 21 seconds.

Also, 80 percent of Linux testers said that they would need only a week to become as familiar with the Linux system as the one they are currently using. Eighty-five percent of the Windows XP testers said the same thing. Positive acceptance and learning readiness are expected with the migration to Linux, claims the study.

All the Windows XP testers said the desktop and applications’ design were both pleasing and easy to navigate, while only 83 percent of the Linux testers said the same thing, said the report.

To make Linux a more natural fit for customers, computing companies are extending the software to make Linux easier to manage and run. Hewlett-Packard recently introduced a new line of desktops pre-installed with Linux, and joined long-standing partner, BEA, to promote Linux in corporations. Executive vice president of HP's services organization, Ann Livermore, said the partners will create bundles of software, hardware and associated services that will make it easier for companies to move their systems to Linux-based applications.

In Asia, interest in Linux comes mostly from strong manufacturing base such as China, India, Korea and Japan, as the open-source operating system allows them to create an operating system free of licensing fees and with full control over the source code.