by April 5, 2008 0 comments

Last month, PCQuest published a survey that showed increasing Linux and other
FOSS (free and open source software) penetration in Indian companies. Nearly
half the CIOs from 75 companies surveyed were using open source apps such as

And a quarter of the respondents said they were using Linux on the desktop.
These ranged from giants like SBI, ECIL or NIC, and midsize companies such as
MindTree Consulting and Dena Bank, to smaller ones.

Why? Of the 21 CIOs who said they used Linux desktops, only 10 cited price as
the top reason. Another 10 said it was because of free access to source code.

All this does not, of course, translate into a high penetration of Linux on
the desktop, across the board. We don’t have data on this, but I would put the
Linux numbers at less than 5 percent of India’s installed base of PCs.

Clearly, server side applications such as email solutions (43%), and
databases (30%) and Internet gateways (27%) have led business usage of open
source software (including Linux). Software such as Apache webserver and email
servers are popular, because of their robustness and low cost.

Prasanto K Roy,
president, ICT Publishing Group, CyberMedia

But Linux is quite viable and practical on the desktop. In fact, it’s ideal
for low-speced, entry-level hardware (including mobile devices) as long as you
don’t overload it with graphics.

Two factors are driving Linux on the business desktop. One is the CIOs’
positive experience with Linux on the server side, which makes them very open to
considering it as a desktop OS. In
organizations where a standardized application will be used, and users have very
little interaction with software beyond that application-the desktop OS does not
matter to the end user, and is defined and driven by the ‘IT shop’ (the CIO and
his or her organization).

The second factor is that many vendors are shipping Linux with desktops and
portables, especially low-cost entry-level models. These include HP, IBM, HCL,
and others (a notable gap is Dell). For instance, the recent HCL and Asus sub-Rs
20k laptops.

Microsoft claims many such PCs end up with users who then ‘copy Windows’ onto
them, replacing Linux. But new users with no prior experience of Windows, from
consumers to SME users, are indeed using these systems.

Of those CIO respondents who use Linux on the desktop, over 35% said they had
a problem with its interoperability with other platforms, and 33% had an issue
with support. These remain
issues-perception or reality-in the way of wider open source adoption on the

But I believe the real reason that Linux on the desktop is nearly invisible
is because of the one big difference between the desktop and the server: Desktop
usage is overwhelmingly defined and driven by user experience and comfort, and
most users are simply used to Windows and other Microsoft software such as Word
and PowerPoint, even when there are practical alternatives available such as
Linux Desktop or Open Office. Server platform selection can be more clinical and
practical, without worrying about user experience or retraining.

The platform on which Linux is making quicker inroads is the mobile. Key
players driving this include Motorola (despite being part of the Symbian
alliance) to Google (its Android platform, due later this year, is Linux-based)
and even the hard-wired-to-Symbian Nokia (with its Internet tablet) and others.
As Android comes in, and Microsoft, BlackBerry, Apple and Symbian try to protect
their turf, the mobile is where the open-source-versus-proprietary platform war
will really be fought this year.

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