Linux Desktop Myths Exploded
By James Maguire
May 05, 2003
Hype about Linux on the desktop is increasing, according to Gartner's recent study,
"Myths of Linux on the Desktop." The goal of the research was to enable
enterprises to be objective in understanding the benefits of the Linux OS on the desktop,
separating open-source fact from fiction.
"I want to stress that I didn't mean to be negative about Linux," Gartner
analyst Michael Silver, the report's author, told NewsFactor. Linux's
appropriateness for any given population has a lot to do with the specifics of each
business' environment and its architectures of applications in use, he said.
To understand the real benefits, enterprises need to realize that some common assertions
will prove to be myths, Silver says.
"Supported versions of Linux are not free," Gartner analyst Michael Silver
notes. Consumer versions of Linux are basically free, but "enterprises that require
vendor support for their client OS will need to pay for it."
Myth: Linux Will Be Less Expensive
Many Linux proponents argue that using Linux instead of Windows saves a substantial chunk
of change because StarOffice/OpenOffice.org
then can be used instead of Microsoft Office.
"This is a bad argument," says Silver, because "StarOffice and
can run fine on Windows." He noted that if users believe they will
save money running StarOffice instead of Microsoft Office, they can run it on their
current version of Windows without spending a fortune to migrate all of their applications
to a new platform.
Myth: Linux Is Free
"Supported versions of Linux are not free," Silver notes. Consumer versions of
Linux are basically free, but "enterprises that require vendor support for their
client OS will need to pay for it." While these costs may work out to be less than
the cost of a Windows license and support, they need to be understood.
Many free, open-source applications ship with Linux distributions, but Silver raises this
question: Are they the applications the enterprise needs? "Thus far, we have not
heard of open-source movements to replace large enterprise resource planning systems ...
and most current vendors do not charge less for a Linux user than a Windows user."
Myth: Linux Means No Forced Upgrades
"Many users complain that Microsoft forces them to upgrade to newer releases of
Windows," Silver wrote. "However, we believe that things will not be that much
different in a Linux environment."
Linux vendors only support their consumer releases (and free distributions) for a maximum
of two years, Silver noted.
"Linux independent software vendors realize that they cannot support their products
on every version of Linux that has or will ever ship," the report says. "So
while there will always be the option of support from the open source community ... we
believe Linux users will feel forced to move to newer releases of Linux just as Windows
users feel forced to upgrade to new versions of Windows."
Myth: Linux Management Is Easier
Significant reductions in staffing are not likely to be achieved "simply by switching
OSes without changing policies, lockdown or the degree of management tool
implementation," according to Silver.
He notes that from a software break/fix perspective, many support calls are due to users
doing something that misconfigures their system.
He expects Linux to have a slight edge over Windows for three reasons: 1) the existence of
fewer viruses targeting Linux desktops; 2) fewer problems caused by conflicting
applications; and 3) difficulty of understanding and repairing the Window registry. Since
Linux is purely file-based, administrators may be able to troubleshoot application
problems more easily.
Myth: Linux Has a Lower TCO
Management tools have been available for Windows for years, Silver observed, but many
enterprises still have not been able to manage their Windows environment. This has often
been due to too much complexity, lack of sufficient policies or standards, or cultural and
political issues, according to Silver.
If this is true with Windows, "we see little reason to believe that the cultural or
political issues will change just because the enterprise is now using Linux," he
Myth: Linux Means Longer Hardware Life
"It is true that a three- or four-year-old PC that is not powerful enough to run
Windows XP and Office XP may be able to run Linux and StarOffice," Silver says.
"However, enterprises need to budget for some additional costs to maintain older
He points out that a new PC bought with Linux today with a goal of a six- to eight-year
lifespan likely will require an expenditure for at least one OS upgrade during that time.
Furthermore, "enterprises should realize that if they buy two different model
notebooks and two different model desktops and keep their PCs for four years, they will
have 16 different varieties of hardware to manage," the report says, and more
varieties of hardware and software will be more difficult and expensive to manage.
Myth: Skills Are Transferable
"Although Unix skills are transferable to Linux, Windows skills are not as
similar," Silver observes, noting that "most enterprises' Unix skills today
exist in a server-oriented department in the IT reporting structure, which is usually
separate from the desktop support group."
Enterprises should consider whether their current structure will prevent them from
leveraging skills across desktops and servers, Silver advises.
The bottom line is that Silver sees some cost savings in migrating to the Linux desktop
but says the move "will probably not eliminate all of the costs the enterprises
But there is undisputedly healthy market interest in this migration. Significant sales
growth is expected within a three- to five-year time frame, according to Forrester analyst
There are a number of market segments for the Linux desktop, he told NewsFactor, including
Asian and Eastern European governments that want an alternative to Microsoft; direct
point-of-sale Linux PCs -- what Schadler calls "the dedicated desktop"; and
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