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Real World Linux 2004: Bigger and Better - page 2

The True Linux Turnout

  • May 3, 2004
  • By Dee-Ann LeBlanc

Novell's presence at Real World Linux could be felt quite clearly, from the keynote on through the rest of the day, not to mention from the fact that the folder of materials they left in the press room has to weigh at least a pound. The opening keynote on Wednesday was by Nat Friedman, Vice President of Research and Development with Novell Ximian Services. Known for his long-time participation in the GNOME project, and for being one of the founders of Ximian, his talk was entitled "The Linux Desktop." Originally, it had been "The Future of the Linux Desktop," but he said that people have been saying that for so long that he's tired of it. The Linux desktop, he decided, is now.

He began with a flashback-inducing tour of Linux on the desktop, from 1992, which quickly made it clear just how far we have come as far as both application availability, and usable interfaces go. Astute observations included the fact that Linux may not have gained nearly as much desktop interest if Netscape hadn't originally supported it--therefore, not locking Linux users out of the burgeoning Web; and the fact that usability studies on people who had never used computers before have found that, given an identical set of tasks to complete, people sat down in front of Linux finished the tasks in times on par with those who were sat down in front of Windows. (Of course, this doesn't address the entirely different situation of people already used to Windows migrating over.)

Speaking of the Web, Friedman pointed out that recent claims that open source stifles innovation are pretty amusing, considering that the Web itself was founded entirely as an open source phenomenon.

While Linux on the desktop is still small, it's gaining ground at a growth rate larger than that of Apple's OS X, and should soon cusp the 1.5% point that would cause Google to report that 2% of all people accessing its site are using Linux.

While he doesn't feel that Linux on the desktop is going to explode this year, he was able to point out a number of large-scale rollouts, in everywhere from Largo, Florida (hundreds) to Extramadura, Spain (and additional areas within that country that have started the adoptions as well, taking the numbers into the hundreds of thousands), and Thailand, which is subsidizing purchases of computers running Linux for all small businesses.

According to Friedman, 2004 is the year of the pilot rollout for many large organizations, which are finding often around ten-thousand volunteers and appropriate staff within their companies and deploying these specific people with Linux. He also feels that this is the year that Linux support options will begin to blossom, as more and more companies and individuals make the shift but don't want to do it without a throat in their hands to choke if something goes wrong.

On top of all of this, Friedman explained that Novell is in the process of moving all of its own staff over to Linux. By June, the company intends to have the majority of its employees running OpenOffice.org under Windows, as a first stage. Then, for the second stage, a majority will be running Linux on their desktops by October. This transition will allow Novell to test and fine-tune its own desktop products internally.

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