Desktop Linux demand on the upswing, Sun says

Exec says people want to be free from vendor lock-in

HANOVER, GERMANY - Sun Microsystems Inc. trumpeted its latest desktop Linux milestone Thursday, declaring that German original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Markement GmbH had sold over one million units of its StarOffice productivity suite. But Germany is StarOffice's home market -- the software has been available form its original Hamburg-based developer since 1993 -- and it remains to be seen if Sun can replicate its success elsewhere.

Carsten Müller, Sun product marketing manager for desktop software in Germany, is confident, however, saying that consumers are hungry for change and now is the time for Linux on the desktop.

"People want to be free from being locked into certain products and companies, namely Microsoft," Müller said, speaking at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany Thursday.

Müller's comments came just hours after antitrust settlement talks between Microsoft and the European Union (EU) had collapsed, and Müller sees customers' frustration with Microsoft and its dominance in the market as a key driver of desktop Linux adoption.

"Customers definitely want to see an alternative to Windows and Microsoft," he said. "Linux on the desktop is going to grow fast, outpacing its current strength on the server side."

Müller admits that StarOffice and the company's new Java Desktop System (JDS) are limited in the kinds of users they can serve at the moment. The products are geared toward office workers who need basic word processing, messaging, e-mail and office programs but aren't tailored toward specific industries or tasks.

Müller said he expects Linux desktop options, not just from Sun but other vendors, to grow fast. In fact, a new version of JDS is due to come out in about six weeks with new management and administration features for enterprises.

At Cebit, Müller said that he is seeing a Linux buzz, with attendees approaching the Sun booth to ask what kind of Linux products they have on offer, even if they don't know yet how they will use them. Freedom of choice, greater security and cost are pushing the demand, in that order, he said.

"It's not all about cost. People want to be independent," he said.

Germany appears to be more "independent" than other countries. Here, Sun's Linux desktop offerings have about 30 percent of the office productivity market, he said, compared to 7 percent worldwide.

Müller realizes that there's still a mountain to climb when it comes to gaining share but hopes that when it comes to desktop Linux, other markets will follow Germany's lead.

At Cebit 2005 Müller believes that desktop Linux push will be even stronger. "A lot can happen in 12 months," he said.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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