Vista still struggling as Linux finds its feet

Almost a year on from the release of Microsoft's Windows Vista, few U.K. companies say they expect to move all desktops to the operating system, according to a survey.
Written by Peter Judge, Contributor

Almost a year on from the release of Microsoft's Windows Vista, only 13 percent of companies say they expect to move all desktops to the operating system, according to a survey released this week. Furthermore, adoption of Linux continues to gather pace, with a particular emphasis on the desktop emerging.

A survey of 961 independently selected IT professionals found that 90 percent still have concerns about the migration to Vista, and 48 percent have not yet deployed Vista in any way. Forty-four percent said they are "considering" alternative operating systems--mostly Mac OS X, Ubuntu, Red Hat Linux and Novell Suse Linux.

But analyst Clive Longbottom of Quocirca advised caution when interpreting the figures. "Very few places are looking at Linux as a replacement for Microsoft," he said.

Longbottom disputes the widely held belief that users will find it easier to upgrade to Linux than to adapt to Vista's new GUI. "It does take a bit of time to find things on Vista, but most people do the majority of the transfer themselves and require less than an hour's worth of training," he said. And, while Linux might be free, there could be a lot of effort involved in transferring things like Word and Excel macros, he warned.

"Microsoft's big problem is not Linux, but the difficulty of upgrading desktops to Vista," said Longbottom. "Old hardware has to be checked, so Vista is a new-build, new-install solution," he said. Many users are waiting to see if Vista Service Pack 1 improves the situation, he said, and are worried about software compatibility. "Microsoft has done a very bad job of getting people to sign up to say their software is compatible with Vista."

Early results from the Linux Foundation's annual survey of Linux use indicate that, in those businesses and organizations that have deployed Linux desktops, just under 40 percent are running Linux on more than half of their machines. And, in most of these places, Linux is more common on desktops than servers--apparently contradicting the common belief that Linux is, and will continue to be, mainly a server OS.

Again though, Longbottom sounds a note of caution. Citing hard usage data of operating systems used to access popular Web sites, he said: "It's still less than 1 percent, after 15 years of Linux at the desktop--that's less than Vista has achieved in one year."

Other commentators are looking beyond traditional desktop systems.

"To be sure, desktop systems based on free software are coming along nicely," said analyst Glyn Moody, of Open..., "not least because people like [Canonical, the makers of Ubuntu] are working hard on making the user experience as good as Windows. But I think it's becoming clear that the desktop is turning into a legacy market of diminishing importance."

Three launches back this up, said Moody: "The Asus Eee PC looks likely to spawn a new category of ultra-small, ultra-cheap, mobile PCs. Windows can't match that: the cheaper the hardware, the greater the proportion of the price represented by the Windows tax." He also pointed to the Everex Green gPC TC2502, which is essentially a Web-based system running on GNU/Linux.

"Finally, if Google's mobile-phone stack, Android, takes off, we could be seeing hundreds of millions, or even billions, of Linux-based systems running Web apps, like the gPC, but not on a desktop," said Moody. "So, in a way, asking whether GNU/Linux will ever take a substantial share of the traditional desktop market is the wrong question, albeit a natural one; that's the past. What's much more interesting is the share of the future personal computing sector--Web-based systems, ultraportables, mobiles--and there it's clear that GNU/Linux is already well ahead."

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