Can Linux kick butt?

December 21, 2003

Original at,4386,226484-1072043940,00.html?

Can Linux kick butt?

Despite advantages, the OS has problems dislodging market leader Microsoft
By Eugene Wee

AS FAR as PC operating systems (OS) go, it's free, more resistant to viruses and it works just as well on your five-year-old PC as it will on the latest gigahertz machine.

It is extremely stable, and is often used to run highly-secure information technology infrastructures like those in banks and stockbroking houses.

And did we mention, it is free?

So why isn't Linux running on your computer?

The Linux OS has been around for more than a decade and has a fanatical fan base rivalled only by the followers of Apple's Macintosh computers.

Yet, despite its advantages over the Microsoft Windows OS, Linux is found only in 3 per cent of desktop PCs while Windows is firmly entrenched in more than 90 per cent.

While it has made significant inroads in the corporate-server market, experts - even those who are pro-Linux - say that it will be a while before Linux can make a noticeable dent in Microsoft's market domination.

'Dislodging such a giant is not easy, and it won't happen overnight,' said Mr Stephan February, chief technology officer of Adeptiva, a Singapore-based provider of Linux business solutions.

Desktop Linux adoption will continue to be slow, he believes, until vendors like IBM, Dell and HP/Compaq start preloading Linux on their computers.

Mr Colin Charles, a marketing community contact for the open-source productivity software OpenOffice, says Linux lags behind Microsoft because the latter's software is more easily available.

Microsoft is also often used in the office, so office workers are likely to use it at home as well, he adds.

Another hurdle has been the perception that Linux is too different and has a higher learning curve when compared to Windows, leading many to think that Linux is just for expert users.

While that may have been true in older incarnations of Linux, the latest versions have almost the same point-and-click ease of use associated with Windows.

'Linux is no longer an OS for technically experienced users only,' said Mr Juergen Geck, chief technology office of SUSE Linux, which distributes its own version of the OS.

'Within the last few years, Linux has made quantum leaps in terms of usability, inter-operability and numbers of applications available.'

Linux has also rallied some influential cheerleaders to its cause.

The Open Source Development Lab, an industry trade group comprising heavyweights like IBM, Dell, Intel, Nokia and Cisco, will begin a campaign next month to get business users to switch allegiance to Linux.

National governments are rooting for Linux as well.

In a move to improve IT literacy among its people, developing countries like Brazil and Thailand are encouraging the adoption of Linux as a much cheaper alternative to Windows so that PCs become more affordable.

And last month, about 20 Asian countries gathered in Singapore for the Asia Open Source Symposium to discuss how the Linux OS is being used in each country and how they can collaborate on issues like standardisation and inter-operability.

Despite the lure of its stability, free versions available for download, improved ease of use, and a close-knit community of users who keep the OS constantly updated, Linux is not necessarily for everyone.

Mr February advises what he calls perpetual novices, users who use the computer for only a small subset of applications like Internet surfing and e-mailing, to stick with what they are used to. Avid gamers, too, may want to give Linux a miss as many popular games do not work on the OS, said Mr Charles.

So who should make the switch?

Mr February suggests that experienced computer users and beginners who have access to friends or family who are experienced users should be the first to consider Linux as a viable alternative to Windows.

Different Linux for different users

UNLIKE Microsoft's monolithic Windows OS, Linux comes in various distributions that cater to different user needs:

  • The Taste Tester/Knoppix
    Price: Free
    A great way to try out Linux without fear of accidently messing up your hard drive; this OS can be run straight from your CD-ROM drive.
  • The Linux Virgin/Lycoris Desktop/LX
    Price: $68
    The look and feel of this Linux distribution is uncannily similar to that of Windows, making it one of the easiest versions of Linux for the Windows user to get used to.
  • The Kiasu User SUSE Linux 9.0 (Personal Edition)
    Price: Free to download, $68 for boxed version
    With this, you can have a dual-OS system of both Windows and Linux. Great for those who want Linux but still need Windows.
  • The Home Office User RedHat Enterprise Linux WS
    Price: $253
    Built for the corporate user, it costs less than half the price of its Windows equivalent, the XP Professional. Good for those who want to run a business from home.

Colin Charles <>, © 1996-2004