Linux on the Desktop

When computer maker Dell responded to a high volume of requests for open source solutions on its products by saying, “We are listening,” speculation was raised that the company had plans to release consumer-level desktop PCs with Linux. Unfortunately for those whose hopes were raised, it was a misunderstanding; the note referred to certifying the hardware for being ready to work with Novell SUSE Linux, it was not an announcement that computers would be loaded and sold with the operating system. That Dell was moving towards Linux on the desktop may have provided the impetus for the numerous articles which followed the news, but the idea itself is not completely new, either in the press or the industry. While much of the press which appeared around the time of Dell’s note focused specifically on Dell, many articles commented on the viability of Linux desktops for the masses in general. Those in the latter category reported that Linux interest and adoption is growing; Dell’s customers requested it, Hewlett Packard has noted this as well, and analysts point out the same. However, the move to Linux desktops is not likely one Dell or others are going to make soon. Jim Zemlin, executive director of the newly formed Linux Foundation (of which Dell is a member) says, “Linux has a long way to go before it has the same market demand as Windows.”
While they may be requesting Linux, BusinessWeek points out that customers, “have also complained about poor support and technical problems.” Linux, better support, and technical problems could add up to trouble, at least as far as the bottom line is concerned, for any supplier of a Linux desktop PC. Sources have noted the necessary expenses in supporting the move to Linux desktops; BusinessWeek points out that suppliers would need to, “sign expanded support contracts with Linux suppliers like Red Hat and Novell, or train its own customer service reps on open-source technologies.” Paul DeGroot, an analyst at the consulting company Directions on Microsoft, says, “After the second or third call, they’ve lost money on the machine.” In regards to technical issues, BusinessWeek states, “to make Linux for consumers fly, the vendor would need to invest in engineering to ensure the software works with popular graphics chips and wireless modems.” Dell is doubtless aware of these factors, as are others; Hewlett Packard has made similar conceits.
PCWorld quotes Doug Small, HP’s worldwide director of open source and Linux marketing, “the number of indicators we look at—the noise level, the interest in the products on the market, the interest in our forums—are all tending to heat up for Linux during the last six months or so.” Though one executive at HP sees, “the Linux desktop nearing critical mass,” the tipping point has yet to be reached. Among the reasons for holding off at this point, much of the current interest in desktop Linux is coming from enterprises, most of them outside the U.S. and North American markets. To meet these needs, “HP says it has recently signed deals — on an ad hoc, custom basis — to provide Linux PCs to large customers,” says the Wall Street Journal; Dell provides similar offerings to some if its enterprise customers as well. There may be a growing base of small- to medium-sized businesses asking about desktop Linux, but it just does not warrant the investment. With both Dell and HP waiting, it seems likely that it may be a while before Linux finds its way to the desktop of everyman. However, that it will come seems equally as likely; Dell and HP are not the only ones noting the rise in interest among users.
In an article entitled, “Is a Linux desktop avalanche coming?” DesktopLinux.com says, “Slowly, ever so slowly, the Linux desktop has been picking up momentum. It keeps getting better and better, but Microsoft’s monopoly has kept many PC users from realizing that there really is a viable alternative to Windows. However, that’s about to change.” The Wall Street Journal concurs, their article, “Linux Starts to Find Home on Desktops” states, “The much-hyped notion that Linux would be viable software to run desktop and notebook PCs seemed dead on arrival a few years ago. But the idea is showing some new vital signs.” The Journal reports that, “market researcher IDC said licenses of both free and purchased versions of Linux software going into PCs world-wide rose 20.8 percent in 2006 over the previous year and forecast that licenses will increase 30 percent this year over last. That compares with 10.5 percent growth in 2004, according to IDC.” Even so, Microsoft’s Windows still runs on over 90 percent of PCs sold each year, which leads the Journal to conclude, “Almost no industry experts expect Linux to make much of a dent against Microsoft on the desktop and laptop any time soon.” According to BusinessWeek many experts agree, “Even high-profile Linux proponents admit the operating system isn’t ready for mass-market use.”

A more complete version of this posting, with journal articles, and research reports can be found at the website of Analyst Views Weekly.

More information on this topic can be found in the Linux & Open Source section of Northern Light’s Software, Computers, & Services Market Intelligence Center.

And in the following articles:

Linux Starts to Find Home on Desktops
Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2007
The Linux operating system, having made inroads into corporations’ backroom server computers, is showing hints of inching into a much broader market: employees’ personal computers. The much-hyped notion that Linux would be viable software to run desktop and notebook PCs seemed dead on arrival a few years ago. But the idea is showing some new vital signs.

HP Sees Linux Desktop Nearing Critical Mass
PC Magazine, March 13, 2007
The good news, according to an HP executive, is that the company sees “the Linux desktop nearing critical mass.” The bad news, for would be off-the-shelf Linux desktop buyers, is that it’s still not there yet. Doug Small, HP’s worldwide director of open source and Linux marketing, explained that while “the number of indicators we look at—the noise level, the interest in the products on the market, the interest in our forums—are all tending to heat up for Linux during the last six months or so.”

Linux Ready for Primetime?
Red Herring, March 8, 2007
Hewlett-Packard may add a Linux-run PC to its line of computers—perhaps indicating the desktop computer market is finally ready for open-source operating systems, an HP exec and a Linux expert said Thursday. Demand for Linux PCs is rising in both developing and established markets, and this might provide incentive for HP to reintroduce a Linux-powered PC, said Doug Small, HP’s worldwide director of open-source and Linux marketing.

Why Dell and Other Major Hardware Vendors Won’t Do Desktop Linux Preinstallation
ars technical, February 28, 2007
The big problem with Linux preinstallation is that one size rarely fits all. Although modern community-driven distributions like Ubuntu and Fedora are designed for a broad audience, serious Linux users are very particular about how their systems are configured. This is even more true for users who prefer highly granular distributions that provide more installation options. Smaller hardware vendors that specialize in Linux preinstallation are better equipped to accommodate user requests for certain configurations.

Is a Linux Desktop Avalanche Coming?
DesktopLinux.com, February 28, 2007
Slowly, ever so slowly, the Linux desktop has been picking up momentum. It keeps getting better and better, but Microsoft’s monopoly has kept many PC users from realizing that there really is a viable alternative to Windows. However, that’s about to change. Just like a few more snowflakes can turn a quiet snowy mountainside into an avalanche, Linux is teetering on the edge of becoming a real force in the desktop computing world.

Dell’s Not Ready to Go Mainstream with Business Linux
InformationWeek, February 27, 2007
Dell is warming up to the idea of reintroducing Linux desktops and notebooks, but for now the computer maker plans to remain on the sidelines and wait until there’s a clear winner among the various distributions of the open source operating system. Dell knows that there’s a demand among enthusiasts for pre-installation of Linux, which has been the top request on the company’s online sounding board IdeaStorm since its launch a couple of weeks ago. While showing some demand for Linux-driven computers, IdeaStorm also shows the downside of the potential market: Everyone wants their own favorite version.

Customers to Dell: Give Us Linux!
BusinessWeek Online, February 26, 2007
Thousands of computer buyers have weighed in on a site Dell set up Feb. 16 to solicit opinions on everything from product design to marketing to technical support. The resounding response: Give us more software and other features based on open-source code, including the Linux operating system.

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