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Enterprise Linux desktops: So much is ready right now!

Many IT administrators would be surprised to find that the application capabilities demanded by most users can be met by the Linux desktop right now.

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Linux is already a major platform used in the business back-end where it provides transparent interoperability with Windows file and print servers. It is already the major platform for corporate Web serving. Clearly, it is a major business platform already, but not on the desktop. That is where the growth potential is. I believe that most administrators will be surprised to find that the application capabilities demanded by most users can be met by the Linux desktop right now.

In this update on the business Linux desktop, I'll outline the needs of enterprises and how Linux applications are or are not ready to fulfill them.

What's available right now?

In office automation, the use and adoption of the open source office suite, OpenOffice, is growing exponentially both on Windows and on Linux platforms. It is only a matter of time before OpenOffice will eclipse Microsoft Office.

In e-mail, Novell Evolution e-mail, collaboration and calendaring groupware and similar tools are just as powerful (if not more so) than Microsoft Outlook. Many who have switched to Evolution are just as much at home as they were in the Microsoft Windows equivalent. Most do not want to switch back.

In Web browsing, just look at the sudden flood of users from Microsoft Internet Explorer to Mozilla Firefox. Firefox can be used on Windows and Linux, so interoperability issues don't exist. The further adoption of Firefox will catalyze the move to the Linux desktop.

Moving on the printing, I can report that the KDE and GNOME desktop environments work seamlessly with CUPS printing. CUPS stands for Common Unix Printing System. It is a breeze to use; just plug a printer into the USB port and use it.No more loading of drivers and messing with driver updates so that Windows can use a printer. CUPS makes Microsoft Windows printing look impossibly difficult.

What's missing?

The major applications that have not yet won Microsoft Windows users to the great switch-over include:

  • Graphics handling: It does not matter how good GIMP is, it is not identical to Adobe PhotoShop. GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program, an open source application for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages.

    What would happen if the producers of PhotoShop would just realize the market opportunity? Wow! That would make the shift a no-brainer for some. Will Adobe climb on board in 2005, or are they too deeply into Microsoft technology? Whoever manages to bridge the gap in desktop graphics handling will ride the winning show float home.

  • Desktop publishing: Well, fortunately Linux is not Windows. Unfortunately, those who will make the shift will need to re-learn the ropes a little. Those who master the new XML tools will reap the rewards also. The open source environment is much more productive for desktop publishing than the Windows one is; but time will see this area resolved.
  • Accounting software: Regrettably, few accounting software companies have seen the light of opportunity in releasing Linux- based desktop products. Those that fail to make the move soon will become increasingly irrelevant. This is not an either/or proposition; let me be clear to add that cross-platform interoperability will be highly sought after during 2005 as Microsoft Windows desktops will not magically disappear, rather they must offer transparent ability to share information and data files regardless of the desktop OS.

So, where will the Linux desktop be by 2006? Actually, a lot depends on the consumer market. Hopefully, more consumers will demand an alternative to Microsoft Windows on the desktop from their favorite vendors. No-one can preemptively force consumer choice. Likewise, no-one can hold back consumer choice, and those who attempt to do so by any means will pay a high price for their vain efforts. The main thing that is missing for the majority of users is not applications, but rather the ability to purchase Linux pre-installed from the CompUSAs and BestBuys of the world, as well as to be able to obtain support from their favorite support source.

The one sticking point that can put a damper on consumer demand for Linux desktops is the lack of support for DVD video players under Linux. Oh, did anyone say that the DVD interface is tied up in intellectual property controls? Maybe it is time America told the entire entertainment industry that consumers have had enough of the nonsense! I've legally bought all my DVD videos, and now the companies I have bought them from are trying to tell me what platform I may use to view them. Bah! Enough is enough!

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