Linux creeps toward desktops

"Companies are still trying to make it easier to use," says David Patrick Cheng, information technology officer at Imperial College in London. "Linux will have to continue its path, heading more towards GUI (graphical user interface) and away from text-based operation," he adds.

"Users don't want to type a lot of commands."

Linux companies also need to make the operating system more practical for everyday use, Cheng says.

"They need more driver support on hardware, more applications and improvement on Plug and Play," he says. "People also want to be able to convert their files to Linux and not have to start over from scratch."

"The biggest problem for Linux on the desktop remains its lack of applications," says Lance Davis, a consultant with UK-based Linux company Definite Software.

"Sure, there are six games for Linux, but after that, what's next?" he adds. "I do know a lot of people who use [Linux] for email, word processing, and Web access, but I couldn't recommend it to someone whose teenage children just want a computer to play games on," Davis adds.

Linux companies have been working to make the operating system friendlier for the masses.

"The quality of the user interfaces (of different Linux versions) has greatly increased, and companies are producing products fairly comparable to those available on Windows," says Bernd Wagner, vice president of European operations, Linux division, for Applix.

Applix makes Applixware Office, a Linux alternative to Microsoft's Office for Windows suite.

"Because of things like identical (key combinations such as Control-C for copy) and the look and feel of the program, you don't even realise you're using Linux," Wagner claims.

As long as the interface looks familiar, some companies don't care what the operating system actually is as long as the price is right, according to Martin Peterson, technical director of Linux shopping portal LinuxIT.com.

"We just shipped 170 workstations running Linux to a large company," he says. "It was a cost-efficient deal; the only thing that was important was price. And when we can give them workstations running Applixware for half the price of a workstation running Microsoft, that becomes the bottom line."

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