May 20, 2009

New Study Shows Linux Desktop Growing Stronger

Even as the global recession cuts into worldwide PC shipments, a new analyst report released today reveals a strong and growing interest among IT staffs to deploy Linux as a cost-reduction and security-enhancing measure in their respective companies.

The new report “Linux on the Desktop: Lessons from Mainstream Business Adoption,” conducted by Freeform Dynamics and sponsored by IBM, showed that Linux desktops were easier to implement than IT staff expected if they targeted the right groups of users, such as general professional users, who have moderate and predictable use of e-mail and office tools.

Among the 1,275 IT professionals from the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries across Western Europe and the Nordics surveyed for the report, some interesting figures jumped out in the results, such as 71 percent of the respondents are motivated by cost savings and that Linux desktops are easier to deploy than expected.

The paper takes a realistic portrait of how Linux deployments look on the ground, particularly in adoption hurdles that many companies face. Despite the advantages of Linux, there is often real resistance to Windows-to-Linux migrations, because of fear of change.

"From a user and business management perspective, while they might occasionally moan and groan about Windows, it is an environment they are used to which largely does the job, and the fear is that any change will be painful and distracting," the paper reports, "There is also the question of consistency between the work environment and the software used at home, which is overwhelmingly Windows based. Against this background, The fear from users is the Linux option is sometimes considered to be the ‘techie’ that any change will be alternative which, even without any direct experience, is often painful and distracting dismissed as not being appropriate for normal users."

The report tapped into advice from respondents who'd had direct experience in Linux desktop deployments (which was 90 percent of those surveyed). The results revealed that rolling out Linux to the right users first was key to making deployments work better. Avoid users who feel they must have (or really should have) Windows to do their jobs. Target users such as the general professional users or transaction workers, who mostly use enterprise applications in a routine prescriptive manner.

chart1.pngIn the survey, respondents were asked to run down a list of user categories and indicate "whether they regarded each category to be a ‘Primary target’ for initial deployment, a ‘Secondary target’ that they would recommend deploying to only after gaining some experience with desktop Linux, or a ‘Questionable target’, to which rollout may prove problematic for some of the reasons we have already discussed." The results (shown in the graph to the right) show that after IT staffers themselves, the general and transactional workers were good primary targets. Non-IT tech staff would be better secondary targets, but the Office-based power user, highly mobile professional, and creative staff categories were all regarded as questionable targets.

“Some users care a great deal about their desktop computing environment and may be emotionally or practically wedded to Windows,” said Dale Vile, research director, Freeform Dynamics. “The trick is to avoid getting distracted by these, and focus on the users for whom the PC on their desk is simply a tool to get their job done. Migrating a general professional user who only needs to access a couple of central systems, an email inbox and light word processing is pretty straightforward.”

Beyond the migration strategies, the study also delved into motivations for Linux desktop deployments. 71 percent of respondents indicated cost reduction as their primary driver for adoption, twice as many as the next most-indicated reason. 35 percent of respondents cited ease of securing the desktop, while 32 percent cited lowering of overheads associated with maintenance and support in general.

“If a company is a ‘Windows shop,’ at some point it will need to evaluate the significant costs of migrating its base to Microsoft’s next desktop and continuing the defense against virus and other attacks,” said Bob Sutor, vice president of Linux and open source, IBM Software Group in a statement. “Savvy IT departments see the Linux desktop as a PC investment that actually saves money during this downturn. We see the recession fueling open source on the desktop.”

The current recession figures prominently in the IT environment. A recent IDC study sponsored by the Linux Foundation found that 48 percent of enterprises it has surveyed expect to increase adoption of Linux on the client (desktop, laptop, etc.) "as a direct result of the economic climate."

The most recent IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker report indicated that while low-cost portable PCs (i.e., netbooks) continue to appeal to consumers and support growth in the PC market, worldwide PC shipments (including desktop and laptops, but excluding x86 servers) were down 7.1% year over year in the first quarter of 2009.

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