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Resellers are enthusiastic about recent moves by Novell and Red Hat to move Linux onto the desktop but warn that fear of the unknown and missing applications are holding progress back.

Asked if he thought Linux was ready to grace the desktops of the average business Philip Burgess, sales manager at Sire Technology, said: "Blimey, I've just put the phone down after talking to SUSE Linux - I'm going to see them next week.

"People would like to see an option on desktops, SCO set things back a bit but there are serious offerings available now. There is always interest from IT departments but it hits a barrier at board level. It's just fear of the unknown - you've got to be brave to recommend to your board something that isn't Microsoft."

Red Hat's desktop strategy was welcomed by Mark Blowers, senior research analyst at Butler Group. He said the announcement of Red Hat's long-term client strategy in London will have "far-reaching significance. At last, Red Hat (and Novell SUSE Linux) are offering the beginnings of a credible, alternative desktop client for long suffering IT managers. Microsoft Windows' 96 per cent share of the market has led to apathy and a lack of innovation... Open source desktop software is now in a position to ask serious questions of the fat client approach."

But Michael Trup, managing director at software distributor Interactive Ideas, was more cautious. He said: "Red Hat have been very server-focused, a strategy that has served them well but this is the next logical step. It is a medium-term market though - it won't happen tomorrow. I'd like to see more applications developed - it's a bit chicken and egg - you won't get apps till you get onto desktops but you won't get there without the apps."

He thinks the lack of applications is the main barrier to Linux getting onto business desktops right now. "For small and medium businesses the lack of a standard accounts package is a problem now. Sage have been talking about it but nothing has happened yet. We see more people moving just because of security alone - they're fed up with all the virus attacks. And for what most people do - email, web browsing and word processing - it's all there."

Peter Dawes-Huish, sales director at reseller LinuxIT, is also cautious. "We made an initial foray into the Linux desktop about eighteen months. Our view is that the market was not ready and the software was not mature enough. But we are seeing increasing demand from customers who are considering putting Linux onto desktops."

Local government and call centres are showing the most interest, he says. "You must be clear on the business needs - many people look at Linux after getting a big bill for software licenses but in many cases this is still the best value for their business." ®

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