Open opportunities

When I took on this column in the fall of 2001, I quickly learned that our readers speak their minds. When I say something that folks agree with -- or don't agree with -- I'll hear about it. In volume.

But I enjoy this. I can deal with honesty, even if the sentiment isn't exactly what I hope to hear.

However, nothing prepared me for the responses to my columns of the past few weeks where I have spent considerable time recently discussing open-source software on the desktop. As late as 12 months ago, the very subject of open-source desktops would have brought an endless stream of catcalls from folks who consider the concept unthinkable. A year ago, almost no one gave credence to the thought of Linux on the corporate desktop.

But no more. It's far from a scientific survey, but my incoming e-mail on the subject is illuminating.

Much to my surprise, less than 5 percent of the responses from folks derided the concept of a Linux business desktop, while more than 10 percent discussed how their organizations were already in the process of moving to open source. Many early adopters are in the education community, which Microsoft Corp. has been targeting with the infamous "buy a site license or face the consequences" memo.

But far more enlightening was the lion's share of readers who explained that they needed just one or two more key applications before making the jump to a Linux desktop.

The arrival of Linux-based office suites has reduced the points of concern to applications like MS Access (for quickly building databases), MS VisualBasic, and MS VisualStudio (for quickly building applications), and for home users, Quicken and TurboTax.

A few mature Linux-based tools address these needs (such as StarOffice's StarBase for Access-like capabilities, and GnuCash for Quicken users), but this is an area that clearly needs more attention.

Something incredibly important is going on here. First, it is clear that a significant number of business and personal PC users are actively evaluating desktop alternatives. This did not appear to be the case last year, but the winds of change are obviously blowing hard.

Second, a definite opportunity is growing. The arrival of the missing key applications on Linux could effectively break the logjam on Linux for the corporate desktop.

This should interest both software vendors and open-source coders. For software vendors, this means that the first products to deliver these capabilities on Linux will have a natural competitive advantage for a substantial business market which could blossom very quickly.

For open-source coders, this means that projects creating these key applications are now worthy of attention. Deliver these applications and the long-awaited migration to open source on the desktop may soon follow.

Vendors and developers: Are you listening?

What key apps are you missing? Tell vendors and developers alike at the Open Source forum at Or let me know at

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