Linux works its way toward prime time

www.infoworld.com |  Operating Systems

LONDON -- IN the last 12 months, Linux has become less of a buzzword and more of a reality, with companies ranging from IBM to Silicon Graphics throwing weight behind the open-source operating system. However, it is still struggling to enter the mainstream arena, according to users and Linux professionals here at Linux Expo 2000.

Although the operating system has become a real alternative for the server market with vendors offering it on a range of higher-end machines, the consensus here on the show floor was that there are still interface and application issues that keep it off the desktop.

"Companies are still trying to make it easier to use," said David Patrick Cheng, IT officer at Imperial College, in London. "Linux will have to continue its path, heading more toward GUI and away from text-based operation," he added. "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 said. "They need more driver support on hardware, more applications, and improvement on plug and play," he added.

"People also want to be able to convert their files to Linux and not have to start over from scratch," Cheng said.

Some companies have already started working on that problem.

"In the period of the last year, we've really started to see products for Linux rolling out," Alastair Kergon, of the U.K. Unix User Group (UKUUG), said. "We see lots of commercial spam from companies pushing out products that are compatible with [Microsoft] Office."

With these compatible products, users can bring documents created with applications such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint over to a Linux environment and view or modify the documents using a Linux program, instead of having to start over from scratch.

Linux distributors agree that interface and applications issues have to be addressed by developers and manufacturers.

"The changes to make Linux accessible on the desktop will be in the user interfaces of things like GNOME [Gnu Network Object Model Environment] and KDE [K Desktop Environment], rather than in anything we do," Lance Davis, a consultant with U.K.-based Linux company Definite Software, said. GNOME and KDE are open-source GUIs. In the open-source method of development, developers -- many of them working on an unpaid basis -- collaborate to modify and update the code.

"The biggest problem for Linux on the desktop remains its lack of applications," Davis said. "Sure there are six games for Linux, but after that, what's next?" he added.

Definite Software still concentrates on the server market, but it is likely to aim more at desktop users within the next two years, Davis said.

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