What's Holding Linux Up?
Jeremy White said there are three main reasons why users want to switch to a Linux/open source solution: Money, Money, and Cost Savings.
A recent report concludes that, "while much work remains to be done, desktop Linux is now 'good enough' for significant classes of users." If that's true, why haven't more organizations and individuals already made the switch?
One reason is that Linux has hidden costs over time that Windows doesn't have. Another reason is that there are some critical gaps in Linux's application spectrum. Noted Linux columnist Russell C. Pavlicek gave a presentation entitled "Development Opportunities: What Key Linux Solutions Are Still Needed?" in which he listed the top 10 solutions Linux needs to improve its adoption rate. Although commercial solutions are solving some of these problems, he feels that they present opportunities for open source advocates and entrepreneurs.
In reverse order (as presented), the missing solutions are:
- Migration tools from Eudora/Outlook to Kmail/Evolution. Although some solutions exist, there's no enterprise level GUI-driven solution for moving Exchange email to an open source counterpart.
- Anti-virus scanning for all protocols. Although users don't have to be as concerned (presently) with email viruses on Linux, it's critical for Linux mail servers to protect Windows clients. Users also need solutions that guard against malevolent code delivered via HTTP and FTP.
- Excel macro conversion. Although StarOffice, OpenOffice, and others can read and convert Excel files, they can't convert or run Excel VBA macros. As many companies have significant and often critical investments in such macros, they won't migrate until that work can run equivalently on Linux.
- Photoshop. A robust open-source image editing program, GIMP, already has a powerful feature set, but it needs a cleaner, easier interface, with top-tier Photoshop functionalitya GIMP for professional-level users. (Note: Photoshop now runs on WINE.)
- AutoCAD. Pavlicek characterized AutoCAD as "the big dog of the midrange yard." Both high-end commercial CAD packages and lower-end open source CAD applications exist, but Linux needs a CAD package with a price-to-features ratio equivalent to AutoCAD. AutoCAD itself has so far declined to port its flagship product to Linux.
- Better default fonts in X11 (Linux's X-windows implementation). The default fonts bother some people to the point that there's an Xfree86 Font Deuglification tutorial to help fix the problem.
- Mass deployment/enterprise admin tools. Although Linux ships with many administration tools, it needs enterprise-level tools for managing desktops and servers, pushing upgrades, lockdown and refresh, and performing backups.
- Easier connections to Windows shares and Netware file servers. Linux's connectivity software, SAMBA, is extremely powerful, but needs a better, easier interface. Linux needs a simple Windows domain login (Xandros is available as a commercial solution), and an equivalent to Windows' network neighborhood.
- Shared calendaring. Pavlicek calls shared calendaring the "opium of the enterprise," and says some organizations are simply addicted to Exchange's calendaring features. Linux needs a true, powerful, multi-platform calendaring server.
- An MS Access-like small desktop database. There are many good databases available for Linux, but nothing that provides users with Access' ease-of-use. Linux needs a lightweight database with a simple GUI interface that database novices can use to design and populate databases.
Although it didn't make the top 10, Pavlicek says another oft-mentioned corporate roadblock to Linux adoption is the lack of Visual Basic or any language like it.
Step back for a moment and look at this list of missing solutions, and it becomes obvious that Microsoft could fill most of the shortcomings by porting its own softwareand its development toolsto Linux.
Microsoft has the ability to delay Linux adoption by not making its software run on Linux, which is the path it has chosen thus far. But it's time to abandon that tactic. Even if open source software never truly competes feature for feature with Microsoft products, and even if it's true that there are hidden costs to Linux that make it just as expensive as Windows, Microsoft can only delay, not prevent, the wholesale adoption of Linux by the public sector, where price is the overriding concern.
As Microsoft showed Netscape years ago, free software is hard to beat. But if Microsoft acts now, it can win in the long runnot by beating open source, but by capitalizing on it, just as IBM, Sun, Novell, and other companies are doing now.
For governments and schools, the switch to Linux is inevitable. And to continue to resist it means that these customers will switch not only from Windows to Linux, but from Windows applications to open source alternatives. Give them the real thing, Microsoft. Give them choice. Port the applications and development tools. Turn the millions of Microsoft developers loose on Linux, and let them build the future on both platforms.