Desktop Linux making inroads at SMBs

Mark Brunelli, News Director

New research suggests that a small but growing number of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are turning to open source Linux for desktop computing over Microsoft's Windows OS.

Boston-based Yankee Group conducted a survey of companies with up to 500 employees and found that while Microsoft continues to dominate the desktop, the next 12 months will see a significant spike in the number of SMBs running Linux instead.

According to Yankee, about 1% of the survey respondents currently run Linux on the majority of their desktops, but the analyst firm expects that number to jump to between 3% and 5% within the next year. Looking beyond one year, Yankee said the number could grow to between 4% and 10%.

Microsoft rules at the desktop level with more than 93% of SMBs running most of their computers on a version of the Windows OS. But Yankee reports that Linux continues to emerge as an alternative. The firm said this is especially true in European countries like Germany and Spain and at U.S. companies with fewer than 20 employees.

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The vast majority of SMBs use Microsoft products. It may be that having all their eggs in one basket is a bit of a  concern.
Steve Hilton
Senior AnalystYankee Group

"The vast majority of SMBs use Microsoft products," said Steve Hilton, a senior analyst with Yankee's SMB strategies unit. "It may be that having all of their eggs in one basket is a bit of a concern (for SMBs), and they feel they need to diversify some of their risk away by using non-Microsoft software."

Despite the release of Windows XP nearly three years ago, most SMBs continue to run many of their computers on Windows 2000, 98 or NT, according to the survey.

Yankee reports that no more than 46% of SMBs are currently running Windows XP, but that number is expected to rise substantially over the next year. The firm said 70% of SMBs with more than 20 employees will migrate to Windows XP next year.

Things to consider

Yankee recommends that SMBs consider Linux as a low-cost alternative to Windows. But the firm cautions that while the cost of the OS itself may be cheaper, supporting Linux users can become expensive. SMBs will want to compare the overall costs of supporting Linux to the cost of licensing and implementing or upgrading Windows systems.

Yankee also points out that the SMB market is one of the keys to Microsoft's business strategy going forward. Smaller companies should use this knowledge to their advantage by voicing their needs and opinions to Microsoft. Such tactics have worked in the past and eventually could lead to better deals for Microsoft customers and SMBs in particular.

What's the appeal?

Mitch Myers, vice president of operations for medium-sized manufacturer FWMurphy in Tulsa, Okla., said while unsupported desktop Linux isn't the right fit for his company, he understands why some smaller companies might be attracted to the OS.

For more information

Read why Linux is a small biz boon -- right now at least

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For one thing, Myers said, Microsoft products can be expensive, and smaller companies are very price sensitive. Furthermore, he added, many companies have expressed dissatisfaction with Microsoft's software licensing policies.

"Smaller companies can afford to adopt technologies that might not be quite so mainstream," Myers said.

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