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Martin LaMonica


Network services giant AT&T is evaluating different operating systems, including Linux and Mac OS X, as alternatives to Windows for internal use.

The company’s chief information officer, Hossein Eslambolchi, has set up a team in AT&T’s research labs to assess the appropriateness of desktop operating systems for the company, AT&T spokesman Michael Dickman said Thursday. The company currently uses Windows on its desktop PCs, which number in the tens of thousands.

The engineers are testing and measuring how Windows, Linux and Mac OS X stack up on security, reliability and total cost of ownership, Dickman said. The CIO is also the company’s chief technology officer and is responsible for AT&T’s research and development.

AT&T expects to make a decision on the merits of the desktop operating systems by the end of next year or early 2006.

Most likely, AT&T will stick with Windows, because Microsoft is addressing many of problems associated with its desktop software, including security flaws that leave it particularly vulnerable to viruses, Dickman said. But increasingly, corporate customers have more choices for desktop software, he noted.

“There’s competition; there’s choice now,” Dickman said. “Any CIO would not be doing due diligence if they are not looking at their options now.”

AT&T is not actively seeking to replace Windows, Dickman said. But the company’s decision to thoroughly evaluate Mac OS X and Linux, along with Windows, for widespread corporate use underscores the improvements in Windows alternatives.

Linux, in particular, has become a more viable option for a desktop operating system, according to analysts. Vendors such as Novell and Sun Microsystems are actively trying to build open-source desktop software businesses catering to corporations.

Use of Linux on desktops is minimal in business right now, according to analysts, but there is growing interest in it. IBM earlier this year launched its own internal project to evaluate Linux for desktop computers. Also, a number of governmental organizations are pursuing open-source options to Microsoft dominance in desktop software.

Researchers at The Yankee Group last month published a report predicting that small businesses will drive adoption of Linux on desktops. In a survey, they found that 4 percent to 10 percent of small companies expect to have Linux PCs one year from now.