However, the move away from Microsoft is also being assessed by both medium-sized and large organisations.
Microsoft has enjoyed dominance in the desktop market for more than two decades, but there are signs that the company's stranglehold may have peaked, as both small and large organisations seriously consider alternatives. Windows is not the only loser in this evolution, as Unix and other platforms, such as Novell Netware, also face being replaced.
Unsurprisingly, smaller companies find it easer to adapt to new platforms and have been among the first to embrace Linux because they have a relatively simple migration path and can realise any benefits very quickly. TTS, a U.K.-based shipping company, has just twelve employees and recently began moving its systems to SuSE.
Dougie Bryce, TTS's director, said the company had grown dramatically over the past few years and needed to upgrade some systems to keep better track of freight. He said TTS decided to use Linux with IBM xSeries servers because it was a more flexible and efficient combination: "Linux frees us from being tied to a single hardware or software vendor and helps us reduce costs. We can adapt our IT systems to suit our freighting business requirements as needed. Without such a move there is no doubt we could not have coped as efficiently with our growth," he said.
Research group IDC said on Friday that between July and September 2003, there was a 16 percent rise in Linux server shipments in terms of spending, and a 32 percent increase in terms of units. This compares to a 5 percent increase in spending on Windows and a 26 percent increase in Windows units. The figures indicate significant discounting of the Microsoft products.
The survey published by IBM claims that one in four companies with between 100 and 1,000 employees is currently using Linux, and half of them are expecting it to become their core operating system. However, a time frame for migration was not given.
Nick Davis, Linux x-Series sales manager at IBM, told ZDNet U.K. that the small business market used to be very concerned about switching to Linux, but with more support from large software vendors and hardware manufacturers, they have become more willing to take a chance: "Applications from the likes of SAP, Sage and Peoplesoft are coming out for Linux, so there is a lot more confidence now."
Davis said that Hill House Hammond, an insurance broker with more than 200 retail outlets in the U.K., was one of the U.K.'s first medium-sized companies to make the move to Linux, and has since enjoyed significant cost savings: "Under the old regime, they had one technical person for every 50 employees because they needed someone in each of their shops to do the administration, reboot the servers etc. etc. Now, they have one technical person for every 500 employees," he said.
Davis explained that although experienced Linux engineers may be more expensive than their Microsoft counterparts, companies that switch over to Linux don't need as many: "Their time is spent developing applications and moving the business forward rather than maintaining, supporting and keeping the old system up and running," he said.
Microsoft’s wounds will not be healed by the National Health Service (NHS), which has around one million employees and is currently in the process of re-evaluating its Windows environment. Last week, the NHS's director general of IT, Richard Granger, said he was considering migrating the whole organisation to Sun Microsystem’s Linux-based Java Desktop System. In a statement, he said: "If this solution were to prove effective, we could save the NHS and the Taxpayer many millions of pounds whilst at the same time using rich and innovative software technology."
The NHS evaluation comes less than a month after Sun Microsystems announced it had signed a deal to deploy "hundreds of millions" of its Linux desktops in China.
ZDNet U.K.’s Munir Kotadia reported from London. Silicon.com’s Andy McCue contributed to this report.