Linux on the Desktop

Lessons from mainstream business adoption


Published/updated: May 2009

by Dale Vile and Martin Atherton

The Microsoft Windows based desktop has been a fact of life in the mainstream business environment for so long now that it is often just accepted as a given. Some organisations, however, have been actively exploring and indeed successfully deploying alternatives, and the Linux based desktop is one of these. Based on candid ‘warts and all’ feedback from over a thousand experienced adopters, we take a practical look at the use of desktop Linux in a real world business context.

KEY FINDINGS

Desktop Linux adoption is primarily driven by cost reduction
When asked during a recent online survey of over a thousand IT professionals with experience of desktop Linux deployment in a business context, over 70% of respondents indicated cost reduction as the primary driver for adoption. Ease of securing the desktop and a general lowering of overheads associated with maintenance and support were cited as factors contributing to the benefit.

But deployment is currently limited, and challenges to further adoption frequently exist
The majority of desktop Linux adopters have only rolled out to less than 20% of their total PC user base at the moment, though the opportunity for more extensive deployment is clearly identified. In order for Linux to reach its full potential in an organisation, however, it is necessary to pay particular attention to challenges in the areas of targeting, user acceptance and application compatibility.

Selective deployment based on objective targeting will yield the highest ROI and acceptance
Rolling out Linux to power users, creative staff and highly mobile professionals can represent a challenge from a migration cost, requirements fulfilment and user satisfaction perspective. However, the needs of transaction workers and general professional users with lighter and more predictable requirements can be met cost-effectively with Linux without running into the same user acceptance issues. With groups such as this typically accounting for a high proportion of the user base, there is a clear opportunity to deploy desktop Linux selectively. Optimisation of the desktop estate is therefore likely to be achieved through a mix of Windows and Linux in most situations.

Linux desktop roll out is easier than expected for properly targeted end-user groups
Those with experience are much more likely to regard non-technical users as primary targets for Linux. The message here is that in practice, Linux is easier to deploy to end users than many imagine before they try it. For the majority of application types, including office tools, email clients and browsers, there is a strong consensus that the needs of most users can be met by native Linux equivalents to traditional Windows solutions. Where this is not the case, thin client or browser based delivery and/or one of the various emulation or virtualisation options are available.

A focus on usability reflects a maturing of thinking
In line with the acknowledged importance of a good user experience, usability is now the most sought after attribute of a Linux distribution. Together with the emphasis on cost reduction already seen, this suggests a maturing of attitudes in relation to Linux, shifting the previous focus on pure technical considerations to a more balanced view of what really matters in a business context. This observation is significant when reviewing the mainstream relevance of the desktop Linux proposition.

The research upon which this report is based was designed, executed and interpreted independently by Freeform Dynamics. Feedback was gathered via an online survey of 1,275 IT professionals from the UK, USA, and other geographies. The study was sponsored by IBM.


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