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Linux 'not just for power users'

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Linux advocates hoping to convert Windows users to the open source operating system are more likely to succeed with technophobes and very inexperienced computer users than with Windows power users.

In a report published by research and analysis firm Quocirca, entitled "Migrating to Linux on the Desktop", the company found not only was it a myth that you had to be a power user to cope with Linux, the complete opposite is true.

According to the report, as users become comfortable with an operating system and start customising it, they are far less likely to want to change.

"The consensus amongst early adopters is that Windows power users are the most difficult group to migrate to Linux because of the breadth of applications they rely on and the advanced features they use within them," the report said." Replacing this richness with Linux-compatible alternatives, and at the same time dealing with their legacy data and home grown applications, is extremely difficult".

The researchers' view is supported by Jon Oxer, president of Linux Australia, an organisation dedicated to the Australian Linux and open source community.

Oxer told ZDNet UK sister site ZDNet Australia that, for a novice computer user, there is virtually no difference in usability between Linux and Windows. However, he said there were difficulties associated with changing a user's applications.

"[Novice users] are still going to have a learning curve about how to manage files and open programs. But at an application level, people put a lot of time into learning things like keyboard shortcuts," said Oxer, who pointed out that there are still problems when converting macros and other customisations.

"A [Microsoft] Word macro is written in a language specific to Word. It is hard to write something that will take the macro as it stands. There will probably have to be some form of conversion done," said Oxer.

The news for desktop Linux advocates is even worse when dealing with smaller companies, according to SMB IT and outsourcing specialists Brennan IT.

David Stevens, managing director of Brennan IT, said SMBs did not even consider Linux on the desktop because they did not want to take a risk and were willing to pay for Microsoft's software licences.

"There is no contest," Stevens said. "Linux just isn't an issue for the SME market. SMEs are much more interested in the stability, performance and productivity of their desktop and are risk averse when it comes to these objectives. The licensing costs charged by Microsoft are not sufficient to force a SME into looking at alternate desktop operating systems, or office applications".

Stevens said Brennan IT assessed Linux as a desktop platform every six months and believed at some point in the future its takeup would be "very significant". However, he does not believe the platform is "viable" now.

However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for Linux firms, Oxer reckons.

Oxer said the growing interest in Web-based applications could allow Linux to sneak into the work environment as users become more reliant on their browser than they are on their desktop environment.

"When one only needs a browser and email program on their computer, the operating system doesn't matter. Breaking the desktop application paradigm is going to be a very big thing. If companies can migrate their applications over to Web services then the desktop becomes irrelevant. All users will need to know is how to launch a browser," said Oxer.


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