Key app gap keeps Linux from desktops

The vision of running Linux on corporate desktops has gained ground during the past 18 months, as full-featured office productivity software has become a reality.

          The vision of running Linux on corporate desktops has gained ground during the past 18 months, as full-featured office productivity software has become a reality and improvements have been made to the Linux kernel and to installation and administration tools.

          But even though the open-source operating system has moved closer to filling desktop needs, nagging gaps remain, say users and analysts at the Enterprise Linux Forum Conference & Expo in Boston. In some cases, they add, the lingering lack of needed functionality is making it hard for IT managers to switch their users to Linux.

          Shawen Donnellan, director of software development at Amherst Corporate Computer Sales & Solutions in Merrimack, New Hampshire, says about 10% of the PC reseller's several thousand customers have asked about Linux, partly because of increased costs for Windows licenses. But many efforts to migrate have faltered because of a lack of collaboration, calendaring and scheduling software for Linux, he says.

          Prospective Linux users "are just dead in the water" if they can't use such applications, says Donnellan. "It's what kills them. You get so tantalisingly close." Donnellan adds that other needed applications are already available, including the OpenOffice.org software suite and Sun Microsystems's StarOffice 6.0 products.

          Boston-based Ximian has developed calendaring and scheduling tools for users of its Linux-based Ximian Evolution groupware client that are similar to those in Microsoft Outlook. But the Ximian tools work only with Microsoft Exchange Server 2000, not the older Exchange Server 5.5. Donnellan says that cuts out most of his customers, who don't want to upgrade to Exchange Server 2000.

          At least one other option has appeared: SuSE Linux AG said its new SuSE Linux Openexchange Server software should provide virtually all of the needed calendaring and scheduling features. But the upgraded Linux distribution isn't yet widely available.

          "This is just a typical part of the process," says Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at IDC. "Some vertical markets find that most of the pieces are already there, while others find that some pieces are still missing."

          According to Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata in Nashua, New Hamphire, software developers will eventually build the needed applications. "But it takes a wellhead of pressure [from users] to make that happen," he adds.

          Robert Borochoff, a senior research scientist at the Administrative Office of the US Courts in Washington, says Linux is among the operating systems being considered to replace a Sun Solaris 7 installation that runs on Intel-based systems and supports about 32,000 end users in 400 federal courthouses.

          But a key runtime tool for PeopleSoft's packaged applications doesn't run under Linux, and Borochoff says the Pleasanton, California-based company has said that it won't port the tool to Linux. But the courts have invested too much money in PeopleSoft's applications to replace the software, he says.

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More about IDC AustraliaIlluminataIntelLinuxMicrosoftOpenOfficeOpenOffice.orgPeopleSoftStarOfficeSun MicrosystemsSuseXimian

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