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IBM Linux chief: Chasing desktop Windows a 'dead-end'

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LinuxCon 2009 IBM says that battling for desktop market share against Windows is a "dead-end" for Linux.

Bob Sutor, IBM's vp of open source and Linux for IBM, opened the inaugural LinuxCon conference held in Portland, Oregon on Monday with predictions for the open source desktop, telling developers they won't thrive unless they specialize. Given his connections to Big Blue, Sutor unsurprisingly (and justifiably) praised Linux for its cloud, mainframe, and hardware-specific ubiquity. But he opined that winning hearts in the general market is a different story altogether.

Sutor drew up several possible futures for the Linux desktop in the years ahead, including Linux going away altogether, one distribution dominating Linux desktops, one distro dominating all desktops, Linux reaching parity with Microsoft and Apple, and desktop Linux disappearing altogether and making the whole issue moot.

"Most people say, 'I don't want to be bothered. It just works. I want to do the other parts of my job, and I want to go home,'" said Sutor. "So this, I think, is going to be a major, major portion that determines possibly some of those futures. What are we really trying to do with this thing? I think making it a complete drop-in replacement is a dead-end strategy.

"They've got a little more money," Sutor said about Microsoft and Apple. "But even more important than that, they've got the market share and the mindshare. We need lots of different attacks on this problem through lots of different technologies. I think the Linux desktop is critical to that, but it has to find its niche of what it does really well, at what price point, and which people. You shouldn't be thinking of it as one great desktop for everyone. I really feel that way. You have to do what we call 'market segmentation.'"

Sutor argued that it's a mistake to try to sell or convince people to use something when they're not interested and will never use it. "Don't waste your time," he said.

"So in the same way, with Linux desktops, you've got to decide ... who are the real potential users and focus on them to the exclusion of other people who - frankly - just aren't interested," Sutor said.

His suggestions of places the community could focus on are virtualized desktops - not just for the traditional "light-weight" users, but for things like virtualized Linux development environments.

Regardless of whom the Linux desktop community would target in the future, Sutor said they need to focus on usability, stability, security, reliability, performance, with some cool thrown in, as well.

"Just like you all have done in enterprise space with servers, it works. We bring that focus and attention to the desktop as well - with the cool - because you've got to convince people to use it." ®

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