Has Desktop Linux Missed its Opportunity?

Desktop Linux's existential question: What's my motivation?

Mainstream adoption of Linux on the desktop, then, faces a kind of chicken-and-egg problem. The major commercial Linux vendors have adopted a desktop strategy that targets the enterprise first and consumers second (if at all). But until Linux catches on with consumers -- and there are few signs that it will do so soon -- don't expect to see grassroots pressure to bring Linux into the workplace, as exists for Mac OS X. Any initiative to adopt Linux in the enterprise must therefore arise entirely from within the business -- which means it must address some key business objective.

This implies that customers who adopt Linux on the desktop will almost always do so out of a desire to reduce costs. Like it or not, Windows remains the de facto standard for business computing. Choosing Windows ensures maximum compatibility with customers, vendors, and partners. Absent significant cost savings, businesses have little incentive to look elsewhere for their desktop software needs. Therefore, a business case for Linux on the desktop must answer two key questions:

1. Can it do everything that I need it to do? (That is, can it do everything that I could do with an equivalent Windows system?)

2. How much money will I save?

Unfortunately, Linux vendors have had a hard time answering either question to enterprise customers' satisfaction. Each customer's usage profile is different. What case studies of desktop Linux's large-scale success have emerged have typically come from governments, law enforcement, higher education, and other noncommercial entities, often in emerging markets. Such organizations typically have greater leeway in setting standards of practice than traditional enterprises do. So it's chickens and eggs again: Until more enterprise customers can demonstrate success with Linux on the desktop, enterprises will remain reluctant to take the plunge.

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