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Servers becoming increasingly Linux-based, but desktops aren't

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Linux is spreading further into the business computing world, but Microsoft need not worry about its effect on Windows just yet. That's one conclusion from market researcher Zona Research's latest study of US IT professionals.

The open source operating system is certainly forming the basis of some major roll-outs, the study, called The New Religion: Linux and Open Source, discovered.

Some 109 senior IT staffers were quizzed about their companies' plans. More than half of respondents from corporates said they expected the number of Linux users in their organisations to grow by 25 per cent over the next 12 months, while 20 per cent of them expected increases of over 50 per cent - the same level of growth anticipated by over a third of small company IT professionals.

Of course, most of them won't necessarily realise it. There's a clear bias among respondents' anticipated and existing Linux installations towards Internet and small-scale infrastructure systems. In other words, Web, e-mail, file and print servers, and firewalls. Only 21 per cent of respondents said they were looking to use the OS for e-commerce projects, and 38 per cent for database servers.

And that's how matters are likely to continue for some time. "About one in five will add those Linux-based functions over the next 12 months, while an additional one in ten will be adding that functionality the following year," the report says.

That leaves plenty of room for Windows in server roles and on the desktop. The latter, in particular, remains an area respondents feel Linux will not play a major part. Why? Because companies are going to have a job replacing the personal productivity applications their desktop users are familiar with.

That's not to say such applications will remain hard to find in the Linux world. Zona estimates that over the next couple of years, commercial and in-house developed desktop applications will become more commonplace, the level of deployment doubling over that period. But doubling a very small number still leaves you with a very small number.

"Other than some efforts to embed Linux in terminals to save vendors money, we do not envision Linux realistically emerging as a client desktop operating system outside of the Linux development community," Zona's report concludes.

Equally, the Linux development community has the monopoly on enthusiasm for Linux - corporates really don't share it. Rather more pragmatic motives, like reliability, price and scalability, are guiding corporate IT staff, not anti-Microsoft sentiment, which again is good news for Redmond.

In the Linux arena, Red Hat dominates, with over half of the study's respondents currently using it. Only nine per cent of them use Red Hat's nearest rival, Caldera. Around a quarter of respondents expect to be using Caldera in the future, compared to over 66 per cent who plan to use Red Hat. The latter's success comes more from the fact that so many hardware companies are bundling it, which suggests business remains pretty distro neutral. ®

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