Analysis: The business case for desktop Linux

It’s one of the perennial questions facing the open source movement: Is Linux ready for the corporate desktop? Ready or not, Linux is coming.

Industry research company IDC predicts that enough companies will see the benefits of a Linux desktop to increase paid shipments of the operating system from 3.4 million clients worldwide in 2002 to more than 10 million by 2007, giving Linux a small but respectable 6 percent of the desktop market.

“Linux captured the No. 2 spot as desktop operating system in 2003,” says IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky. “IDC sees Linux maintaining that No. 2 position and growing ever so slightly — but not becoming a dominant force or even a major force.”

Regardless of whether Linux will be a real threat to Windows on the desktop, the expected growth was enough to prompt Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. to introduce an enterprise-focused Red Hat Desktop product in May. Despite being the leading commercial Linux vendor, Red Hat actually lags behind Sun Microsystems’ Linux desktop sales to enterprises. Last fall, Sun began shipping its Java Desktop System, which is based on the SuSE Linux distribution. And SuSE itself has shipped a product for corporate users since March 2003, called the SuSE Linux Desktop. Since being acquired by Novell earlier this year, SuSE has been readying the Novell Linux Desktop, which will incorporate software from Novell’s 2003 acquisition of Ximian.