As Linux on the desktop inches ever closer to reality, the once-unthinkable notion that open source could challenge Windows on client installations suddenly doesn't seem so far-fetched.
In June, the nonprofit Eclipse open-source software foundation released software that delivers desktop applications via Linux, thus offering a potential Windows alternative, as first reported by CNET. Eclipse, spawned at IBM before Big Blue spun it off earlier this year, is dedicated to promoting its open platform for tool integration.
The free Eclipse 3.0 software, targeted primarily at Java programmers, helps developers build and run rich-client applications with high-end graphics and provides a single framework that a variety of development tools can plug into. This will allow programmers to combine multiple tools into single applications. Eclipse 3.0 also promises improved developer productivity and includes changes that allow different methods for building user interfaces in Java. The emergence of Eclipse, with its feature-rich capabilities, has some analysts and other industry observers wondering whether the Linux threat on the desktop is more imminent than ever. In particular, organizations that run a lot of graphics-intensive applications on different OSs are likely to recognize the appeal of Eclipse. In the long run, having more viable desktop choices could hurt Microsoft's long-held dominance.
IBM already has fired a shot across Microsoft's bow, announcing in May a software bundle that includes e-mail, word-processing, spreadsheet and database applications aimed at business users. The package, based on the company's Lotus Workplace strategy, also includes server-based management software and tools that run productivity applications on handheld devices, all across multiple OSs.
But to date, not many application providers have written software for the Eclipse client. These are the folks VARs will want to watch as they try to decide if, when and how deeply to take the plunge into the Linux market.
The ongoing question for many VARs, however, is about what kind of support issues they might face, particularly in the SMB space. "There's discomfort among many SMB end users because their limited expertise in Linux can create a burdensome support situation," says Ray Shah, president of GBD Group, a systems integrator in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. "Linux will become standard soon, but it's not quite there yet."
Support concerns aside, one area open source is likely to have a distinct advantage over Windows is in the way it's purchased. Many of Microsoft's end users and resellers have complained about the terms of the company's Software Assurance licensing program.
"We're seeing more companies adopt Linux not because of the technology, but because of the licensing issues," says Murray Owen, vice president of sales for SolutionPro, a solution provider in Boise, Idaho.