Making Desktop Linux Happen

by Niel M. Bornstein

One of my current areas of focus is making the Linux desktop a viable option for enterprises. The question I'm trying to answer is "how do we help corporations adopt Linux as a desktop operating system?"

I could make the question "how do we make it easy for corporations ...", but I don't think that's the right way to approach the problem. It'll never be easy to move a Fortune 500 company's thousands of desktop users to a new operating system, whether that means upgrading to a newer release of Windows XP or migrating to Linux. What we need to do is make moving to Linux a reachable goal.

In researching the question, I've found a few desktop Linux resources on the web, groups that are trying to approach the same goal, and sites that are tracking the efforts of those groups.

OSDL has a Desktop Linux Working Group, whose charter is "[to work] with the open source community to identify a broad set of Linux desktop models, develop specifications and deliver reference implementations to accelerate their growth."

There's also,, which hosts "open source / open discussion software projects working on interoperability and shared technology for X Window System desktops."

The Desktop Linux Consortium, founded in 2003, seems to be mostly a non-starter. There's been no activity in the last year or so.

For news sources, besides filtering through the usual aggregators, there's, dedicated to "using Linux on enterprise and end user desktops". I've found to be a good source of news and information on the players in the desktop Linux arena.

Finally, there's the Desktop Developers' Conference, in association with the Linux Symposium next month in Ottawa.

Anything I'm missing?

Where do you go for desktop Linux information? What do you see as the major barriers to desktop Linux adoption?


2005-06-21 10:07:39
The Open CD project is about collecting high-quality open-source desktop application software that works on Windows, and most if not all of it works on Linux.

One thing holding many people back from moving to Linux are the Windows apps that they feel they can't live without, so getting them interested in the Open CD apps can help to reduce that dependency.


2005-06-21 12:11:00
Simplifying Linux
From what I've seen, the main issues for the enterprise are support and total cost advantage. Linux distros have to beat Windows (and Mac) in those two areas.

The support issue is, in my mind, more or less covered. There are now several major IT vendors supporting Linux, so that enterprises don't have to feel they'll be stranded out in the cold.

The cost advantage is trickier. In many ways, Linux distros emulate Windows so well that you can hardly tell the difference. And neither can the big CEO types. They know about the security benefits, but if they've already got a Windows team handling that and it's not straining their bottom line, then inertia is the route of least risk. A migration is complex and could be problematic, might require software rewrites or Windows emulation, and might require them to shake up their IT team to boot. And even then, there's no guarantee they'll be better off.

So I think the best bet is to find businesses that have been bitten hard by Windows problems, or who are being financially strained by licensing/support issues, and get them to switch then let their case study do the talking. But I think companies being affected by those issues wouldn't be the enterprise so much as small/medium-sized business. And personally, I think this is the real target to get change started.

Enterprises move slow, and a lot rides on a highly successful conversion because all the other big corporations are watching to see if this Linux thing is worth it. And IMHO massive and ambitious conversions are likely to at least have some unexpected roadbumps at this point in time. Linux on the desktop is still "new" and the existing market is mostly limited to techies and a few in-process govt/enterprise conversions. So rather than aim straight for the biggest fishes in the sea, why not target small/medium-sized businesses, moving them over a few at a time, and improving Linux as you go along by filling in gaps that appear?

As someone in that target market (small to medium sized business), I would say that the biggest hurdle for Linux is learning curve. Linux is really about "piecing together" an OS from a bunch of different parts, but most Desktop users just want to hit install and have everything they may need installed for them. (i.e. like with OS X and Windows) There's also the issue that the filesystem, for example, is very hard to understand, which becomes important beause in smaller businesses users do some degree of maintenance on their machines.

Developers, similarly, want a single, clear target where they know what they need to bundle and what will be provided by the OS. This is currently handled by complicated dependency scripts, but writing scripts that handle all software dependencies is just one more thing devs have to learn and maintain that they don't need to deal with on Mac and Windows.

IMHO, the simpler you make it, the more people will start to move over, which leads to more mindshare and even more 'switchers'. Linux has been tweaked quite a bit on the 'outside', but the insides are pretty much still a system built 20-30 years ago and optimized for client/server terminal usage. Mac OS X made the decision to regard this as a legacy filesystem, and IMHO they've benefited greatly from it.

2005-06-22 01:34:29
start up desktop linux experience
We are a software house and we have been using SuSE for 1 year.
Our experience have been mostly with laptops, openoffice, evolution, firefox and for the devs eclipse and netbeans. Again we are not speaking of a large deployment of standardized desktop but of a few desktops for power users like markting executive, developers, who are pushing every application to the limit.
It has been, all in all, a decent environment. Though there are a few things which could improve (In order of relevance for us): - It came a long way and 2.0 looks good but it has still shortcomings. What I am saying is that OOo is good for almost everything you can think of but if you give it to somebody who does powerpoint for a living (or excels) he will not be able to work as effectively as he had with MS Office. How can OpenOffice improve? By putting it into to the hands of controllers and sales reps and listen to their feedbacks

Laptop support - again I am speaking about power user who will need to be able to connect to a wireless network from an hotel and work on batteries during a taxy ride. It must work. To mention a few hichups here: long startup time, suspend to memory not working, not up to standard wireless tools (kinternet goes in the right direction with SuSE 9.3 but it is not yet there).

Applications - here I am talking about Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia Flash and the likes. Everything beyond Office and internet is still missing. Until this applications are available I cannot put a linux desktop in the hands of a design team or any other specialized workforce.

Desktop organization - I understand that linux is about choice and being a linux users since '95 I appreciate it as well but I saw with my very eyes many people getting lost in a linux menu or trying to work with yast + kde control center + gnome control center. There cannot be 12 mixers in a standard install, if I use KDE I just need the kde mixer. There should not be double administration tools i.e. yast, kde control center. We need some streamlining here.

Interface speed - KDE and Gnome have become slower then anything I saw on desktops. I mean they take about a minute to start up and the interface does not feel as responsive as it should feel. On top of it they tend to take a lot of memory and cpu cycles.

Again I am using linux on a daily basis and I am happy about it. I am only providing some feedback in the hope it might be useful.

2005-06-22 03:30:25
Linux Desktops in the Enterprise
Some suggestions.

1. This article covers a lot of ground on your focus

2. Serve an apprenticeship with Microsoft Enterpise systems marketing division and learn what they did wrong or right from a marketing view point.

3. Next time someone says "Linux will dominated the desktop", ask them to come along with you "on the beat" on your next sales trip to sell Desktop Linux; we may all learn something firsthand.

2005-06-22 06:36:54
Making the Linux Desktop Possible in One Word
I just had a conversation with one of my former students, and he just started an internship at a hospital. He said the most striking thing
about the IT "business" there is that a majority of their IT budget is spent on technical licensing for software and other necessary IT products
(e.g. antii-virus and firewall support). Because of the plethora of free and open software available, why do they NOT seek alternatives?

One word: support

People would rather pay companies such as Microsoft, Symantec, etc. for help rather than hiring people or figuring out things themselves.
Sad, but true. And I feel that this is the reason why the general population still haven't caught onto open source software including Linux --they are too afraid to step into the water.

2005-06-22 07:28:05
Also helpful, are the tools that ease migration to Linux and F/OSS. These include "">
for Mac OS X users. For Windows users, there is
and, better yet, "">
now running atop CoLinux, which also supports some non-slackware distros, albeit, not as far along.
2005-06-22 10:02:09
Check out They have a great CD made up of stuff from the Open CD project. It seems to work on all of the different types of equipment I have tried it on.
2005-11-26 23:36:35
Here are a few links
I've been digging up references to what's holding
linux back on the desktop, and who's working on
fixing those issues. The ongoing result is at
Feedback, corrections, and contributions would be most welcome.
2005-11-26 23:39:14
re: Here are a few links
(Sorry, I was expecting the forum to
automatically turn that URL into a link.
Here's a link:) (
2005-11-26 23:40:31
re: Here are a few links
OK, I give up. This forum is pretty hard to
use. It *really* needs a preview button.