Countdown to Linux Desktops
In a show of unity that is rare in the technology industry, nearly everyone has agreed that Linux is not ready for prime time when it comes to the average user in desktop deployment.
Although there is a certain wistful "if only" quality to the discussion, even major Linux vendors acknowledge that it will take some time before the penguin makes its way to the desktops of everyday users.
But how much time is difficult to predict. Although some analysts once projected that Linux would take decades to filter down from early adopters to average users, Linux vendors are tired of waiting, and are doing everything they can to speed up the adoption process.
The mass rollout of Linux to the desktop is pegged at between five and twenty years, depending on who is being asked, with many leaning toward the longer-term part of the range.
"Linux in the mainstream is a possibility, but we're not going to see it anytime soon," said Gartner analyst Michael Silver. "There's been a lot of hype about Linux coming to the desktop, but it's just not going to happen as fast as some people want it to."
Gartner released a report predicting that until 2008 at least, Linux would capture only a "tiny" percentage of the PC share.
Many others also are conservative in their time estimates about Linux desktops, but do see Linux momentum as potentially shortening the countdown.
"Linux itself has been ready for the desktop for years," said Mike Ferris, Red Hat's product marketing manager for Enterprise Linux. "It's just been waiting for the market to catch up."
Last year, the company decided to help the market along, and released Red Hat Desktop, aimed at less-technical users. As more products aimed at the front-office are released, companies will be able to implement Linux throughout the business, and that will speed adoption.
"I don't think it's going to take a decade before we see wider desktop adoption," said Ferris. "In fact, I think within the next five years, there'll be significant strides made."
It is possible that Linux never will overtake Windows, some analysts have said, but it is poised to overtake Apple in the not-too-distant future.
"Linux is no longer on the fringe, it's not a niche player anymore," said IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky. "Within a few years, it should be the number two desktop operating system."