Open Source

CIO Jury: The Linux desktop is dead

More chance of Mac OS X challenging Windows, say IT chiefs

Linux is unlikely ever to be a viable alternative to Microsoft's Windows on the desktop for corporate IT departments, according to leading CIOs.

Just this week new research by the National Computing Centre (NCC) found only one Linux desktop for every 300 currently running Windows XP in UK organisations. Three-quarters of silicon.com's 12-strong CIO Jury backed the view that the Linux desktop dream is dead.

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Rorie Devine, IT director at Betfair.com, said Linux would have to change drastically to compete at desktop level.

He said: "There would have to be a unified vision of where the components fit together and application developers would have to be able to work to that and have a mass market. At the moment there are too many options for the Linux desktop to support mass market tools. A more likely Unix on the desktop is Mac OS X."

Graham Benson, IT director at Play.com's IT organisation the Web Factory, said: "Linux is a great example of the old adage 'you don't get owt for nowt'. It is not free, as you pay for the support and there are so many flavours that it dilutes any potential attractiveness. Far from being a Luddite, I am disappointed with the penetration of Linux; I had high hopes for a viable alternative but commercial interests in the end got the better of a great ideal."

Despite the love-hate relationship that many organisations have with Microsoft, its products are now relatively stable, well-supported and secure, according to Ted Woodhouse, director of IT strategy at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

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He said: "Unless, and until, Linux can get anywhere near that level of service and guarantee, it's too big a risk."

Simply put, there are currently few business benefits that would justify such a switch from Microsoft to Linux for many IT departments.

Nick Masterson-Jones, IT director at Voca, said: "My view is that replacing one load of complexity on the desktop with another, albeit open source, isn't the way to go. We're going down the virtualisation path which will make a much greater impact."

Others predict the battleground for control of the desktop is completely changing. Paul Broome, IT director at 192.com, said: "Linux desktop for business is as unsuitable as Windows in what will be a retro terminal server world in five years. All apps will be hosted on servers locally on the net. So bye-bye all PCs - hello VT100 with a USB port."

But not everyone agreed that the Windows versus Linux desktop battle is over. David Lister, CIO at Reuters, said Microsoft's ability to respond to new entrants such as Google will ultimately decide the debate.

He said: "I suspect the real challenge is less about the operating system and more about the battle for web 2.0, Software as a Service (SaaS), etc. I'm not sure if Microsoft can reinvent agility although it seems to be trying hard to get there. It'll be a fascinating battle."

Richard Steel, the head of ICT at the London Borough of Newham which famously threatened to move to Linux before sticking with Microsoft, said there will always be challengers to the dominant provider.

He said: "Linux is the obvious route to challenge and, as it has some sizeable players involved, has the best chance of breaking through - great for keeping Microsoft on its toes. My view - to have any chance of gaining ground, Linux has to get ahead, rather than always be a couple of years behind."

Today's CIO Jury was...

Neil Bath, IT director, Brewin Dolphin Securities
Alastair Behenna, CIO, Harvey Nash
Graham Benson, IT director, the Web Factory (Play.com)
Paul Broome, IT director, 192.com
Ken Davis, IT director at TV channel Five
Rorie Devine, IT director, Betfair.com
David Lister, CIO, Reuters
Nick Masterson-Jones, IT director, Voca
Jacques Rene, CTO, Airclaims
Richard Steel, head of ICT, London Borough of Newham
Ted Woodhouse, director of IT strategy, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
Phil Young, head of IT and operations, Amtrak Express Parcels

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