Despite the attention it has received here at the CeBIT show, even the staunchest supporters of the Linux operating system concede that it is still a niche product for the desktop market.
One of the biggest obstacles facing Linux is the perceived lack of widely available office applications. "Given the lack of applications available, we really can't claim it as being competitive on the desktop yet," said Roland Dyroff, CEO of SuSE Linux, at CeBIT.
"When desktop adoption does take place, it will be in large businesses, because the lack of applications won't affect them," Dyroff said. Not only do they know exactly which applications they need, but large businesses also have the finances available to allow them to run other operating systems simultaneously, he said.
Another barrier to mainstream acceptance of Linux is hardware support. "Hardware vendors are becoming more supportive though, because now they want to sell their hardware to Linux users," Dyroff said. "Of course the support (by hardware manufacturers) for the market leader is going to be better than that for the others," he said in reference to hardware compatibility with Microsoft's software.
However, hardware support, or even the lack of it, is not a problem for current users of Linux, he said. "The customers we target have a serious interest in what goes on their machine. If a driver for a piece of hardware exists, there is no problem installing it."
A little nerdiness goes a long way when it comes to installing Linux, said Dyroff. "The people who have problems are the people who've never even seen Unix."
Even so, the difficulties of installing Linux are overstated, according to Dyroff. "Windows already comes installed, people don't think about that," he said. "Now that we are beginning to see more and more systems with Linux preinstalled, I think it will lose that reputation."
For Dyroff, Microsoft's Windows 2000 is just another small step in a long race. "Releasing new versions of operating systems is just a natural process," he said. "Our product is getting better as well." However, Linux is also not having the easiest of times moving from the low-end server, where it has traditionally been based, to high-end server territory.
SuSE made a step into the high-end market last weekend by announcing a venture with Silicon Graphics (SGI) to port SGI's Unix clustering software to the Linux operating system.
The Linux distributor's next update to its flavour of Linux, version 6.4, will be released next month, Dyroff said. The new distribution will feature an improved graphical installation interface and a different desktop design. SuSE is also readying for release a new manual for beginning users of the operating system in German and English to coincide with the launch of the new version.
SuSE will be focusing on consulting and expanding operations this year, Dyroff said. The German vendor has now established a good foothold in the US as the second largest Linux distributor, by units shipped, after Red Hat -- although Dyroff admitted that the gap between the two is "significant".
The next stop for SuSE is Asia, where it plans to have an office opened by the end of this year. "Most Linux distributions in Asia are just patched versions of other versions," he said. Dyroff also said that the company is working its way into the South American market by way of launching a subsidiary in Venezuela.