This implies that customers who adopt Linux on the desktop will almost always do so out of a desire to reduce costs. Like it or not, Windows remains the de facto standard for business computing. Choosing Windows ensures maximum compatibility with customers, vendors, and partners. Absent significant cost savings, businesses have little incentive to look elsewhere for their desktop software needs. Therefore, a business case for Linux on the desktop must answer two key questions:
1. Can it do everything that I need it to do? (That is, can it do everything that I could do with an equivalent Windows system?)
2. How much money will I save?
Unfortunately, Linux vendors have had a hard time answering either question to enterprise customers' satisfaction. Each customer's usage profile is different. What case studies of desktop Linux's large-scale success have emerged have typically come from governments, law enforcement, higher education, and other noncommercial entities, often in emerging markets. Such organizations typically have greater leeway in setting standards of practice than traditional enterprises do. So it's chickens and eggs again: Until more enterprise customers can demonstrate success with Linux on the desktop, enterprises will remain reluctant to take the plunge.
It's the apps, stupid
Another problem that arises when customers evaluate Linux on the desktop is that they often do so with unrealistic expectations. The desire to replace Windows is itself worth examining. Asking Linux to duplicate every quirk and feature of the Windows environment is not only misguided, it's also self-defeating. If Windows is the benchmark of success, then Microsoft gets to set the terms. Seen through that lens, the competition between Windows and Linux starts to look like one of Zeno's paradoxes: No matter how much progress Linux makes, it can never reach the goal.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that, to a desktop user, "Linux" implies far more than just an OS. Choosing Linux means adopting an entirely separate ecosystem of software and applications than what is available for Windows. It's in for a penny, in for a pound: Good-bye Internet Explorer, hello Firefox. Good-bye Microsoft Office, hello OpenOffice.org or Lotus Symphony. And while many open source applications are perfectly adequate replacements for their proprietary equivalents, others may not measure up.
If proprietary software vendors would port their major applications to Linux -- if Adobe offered a Linux version of Photoshop, for example -- the decision to switch to Linux on the desktop could be much easier. Unfortunately, there's little incentive to do so. Because enterprises adopt Linux to save money, common sense suggests that commercial Linux software is inherently a low-margin business. Actual sales would be unlikely to offset the cost of developing and supporting the Linux versions.
A successful migration to Linux on the business desktop therefore depends almost entirely upon the ability of the organization in question to weather the disruption that will inevitably result. For some, the pain may be minimal; for example, organizations that conduct most of their business using standards-based Web applications may have little trouble making the transition to Linux. Companies that rely heavily on proprietary products such as Microsoft SharePoint or Exchange, however, will find it difficult or even impossible to switch without major adjustments to business processes.