Meanwhile, leading Linux vendor Red Hat has "no plans" to deliver a mainstream desktop Linux distribution. At the recent Open Source Business Conference, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst admitted that he doesn't know how to make money on it. And even Novell, which markets a commercial desktop Linux distribution aimed at enterprise customers, says building a market for the OS among consumers will take years.
If major Linux vendors aren't ready to put their full faith behind Linux on the desktop, who will? More importantly, what will it take for Linux to overcome the barriers to mainstream acceptance and realize its full potential -- if it's even possible?
FUD for thought: Desktop Linux's No. 1 enemy
It's tempting to look for easy answers. Ask an open source advocate why enterprises are reluctant to adopt Linux and other free software, and the answer often comes down to three letters: FUD. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt -- the result of contradictory or even misleading information spread by proprietary software vendors -- have dogged the open source movement since its earliest days.
But simply crying FUD may hinder open source adoption more than it helps. Potential Linux users (and customers) aren't the enemy. Telling them that they've fallen prey to FUD -- in essence, calling them idiots and cowards -- can only alienate them.
Are businesses wary of Linux because of actual fear? Doubtful. Because of uncertainty and doubt? Certainly. For risk-averse enterprises in a bear market, wanting doubts assuaged and uncertainty eliminated is standard operating procedure. They would demand as much of any vendor. When the open source community reacts in a way that appears thin-skinned or defensive, it sends the message that open source is unprepared to compete against proprietary software.
It is true that resistance to open source is sometimes motivated by intuitive, emotional factors, rather than rational decision-making. But if rationality is to prevail, vendors and open source advocates must provide potential customers with the hard information necessary to facilitate the decision-making process. Merely providing an alternative isn't enough; they need to demonstrate that the alternative represents a superior value.
The danger of falling back on "the FUD defense" is that it makes it all too easy to dismiss or overlook concerns stemming from genuine customer concerns. Any product that falls short of meeting its customers' needs will ultimately fail in the marketplace. For client-side OS customers, those needs are varied and complex -- and whether Linux is truly capable of meeting them is an equally complex question.
Mac OS X is desktop Linux's real competition for user attention
Linux isn't the only alternative OS to Windows vying for a spot on the enterprise desktop. Apple has made slow but steady inroads in recent years, with some studies suggesting it now commands an unprecedented 10 percent share of the total OS market, and 23 percent of businesses have at least some Macs in use. Virtually all of those gains have come at Microsoft's expense. So why is Mac OS X enjoying such success while desktop Linux has seemingly stagnated?