IT departments need to be looking seriously at Linux for desktops now - or risk problems within two years.
Christian Schlaeger, VP of R&D at Novell subsidiary Suse Linux, speaking at the Linux User and Developer Expo at London Olympia, said: "There's no standard migration, but if you're not in pilot now you'll have problems in two years time - it's not for everyone but you need to look at it."
Even traditionally-conservative markets like banking and finance are looking at it now and will start wider projects later this year, he said.
Matt Asay, director of Linux Business Office at Novell, developed the theme. "The default question will not be 'why are you deploying Linux' but 'Why are you not deploying Linux'."
He said: "The desktop market right now is held back by friction - we've had more than ten years of Windows-only experience on the desktop. Even for me personally, making the transition felt scary just because it's new. A new operating system and new applications feel weird."
In a move Asay described as "eating our own dog food" , Novell is moving all internal desktops to open source software. The first target for this is moving everyone onto Open Office by July this year. Migrating operating systems will follow. Asay said the project would teach them a lot about the process and help them empathise with customers considering similar projects.
According to Schlaeger, the difficulty will be with the outside world, not with users. "We have developers if there is a problem with an application. The problem is communicating with Microsoft, with each new upgrade and file type, we have to catch up. Sharing files and opening attachments is a problem even in a Windows world - people are quite used to sending files in different formats because of problems."
Asay said: "We don't have a 100 per cent, feature for feature, replacement for Microsoft Office yet. But it's good enough for a large percentage of users. And soon we'll be better than MS Office... There's been no innovation on the desktop for a decade."
Novell wants 40 per cent of Linux desktops by 2007 and 20 per cent of all desktops by 2009.
Schlaeger admitted getting into desktops would be harder than cracking the server market. Linux started being widely used by computing students five years ago - they're now working in IT departments and making buying decisions. Schlaeger said: "Microsoft is more dominant and you can't sneak a new desktop operating system onto 5,000 desktops the way you can put Linux on a print server - the boss would notice."
He said: "Servers opened the door for us - none of the customers talking to us now about Linux desktops weren't Linux server users first.
Novell bought Linux desktop specialist Ximian in August 2003 and Suse Linux in November 2003. ®
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