Enterprise Linux Log

Oct 26 2009   4:08PM GMT

Can Ubuntu Linux become a Windows killer?

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There have been a number of articles written recently talking about Windows 7 being a Linux killer.

Linux was thought to be a player in the netbook business, but a Spring 2009 NPD Group study shows that Windows has a 90% share of the netbook OS market. It seems silly to be talking about any Windows desktop operating system as a Linux killer. There are so few Linux client operating systems deployed compared to Windows that this discussion is off target, especially because it appears that Windows 7 is an improvement over Windows Vista.

Today, about 25 or 26 paid Windows client operating systems are shipped for each paid Linux client shipped, according to IDC. Paid Windows client operating systems have more than 90% market share while Mac and Linux make up most of the remaining share. The market share lead that Windows has over Linux is not expected to change much for the foreseeable future.

There are about 30 times as many paid Windows client operating systems in use as there are paid Linux client operating systems deployed. And there are about 13 times as many non-paid Windows client operating systems in use as there are non-paid Linux clients.


Non-paid Linux client shipments are growing faster than paid Linux client shipments while paid Windows client shipments are growing faster than non-paid Windows client shipments. These two trends are also true for Linux and Windows installed bases. Any notion that Linux client operating systems are cutting into Windows’ client dominant market share is ill-founded.

Windows 7 Business, scheduled to ship in October 2009, is expected to be the best Windows client operating system ever. According to IDC, Windows 7 Business will overtake shipments of Vista Business by the end of 2010. Windows XP Professional, Vista’s client predecessor, is also expected to give way to Windows 7 Business by the end of next year.

A unified Linux desktop
So if Linux has any chance of cutting into Windows client’s market share, which flavor of Linux will it be?

Today, the leading Linux client operating system vendor is Red Flag followed by Turbolinux, according to IDC. Ubuntu Desktop has more paid Linux client market share than does Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) Desktop or Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED). Red Flag also leads in non-paid Linux client shipments with Ubuntu Desktop in second place. RHEL Desktop and SLED have larger shares of the non-paid Linux client shipments than they do of paid Linux client shipments. This is also true for Ubuntu.

Ubuntu Desktop is by far the fastest growing Linux client operating system for both paid Linux and non-paid Linux client shipments with three to four times the growth rate of either SLED or RHEL Desktop. With respect to non-paid Linux, Ubuntu Desktop’s market share growth rate is about four to six times the growth rate for SLED and RHEL Desktop. If Ubuntu Desktop continues to grow anywhere nearly as fast as it has grown in the past year, it will shortly be the leading paid and non-paid Linux client operating system in the world.

Ubuntu Desktop got a boost recently when IBM and Canonical launched Linux and cloud-based desktop software in the U.S. The software package, IBM Client for Smart Work, delivers productivity and collaboration software with a savings of up to 50% per seat on software costs versus a Windows-based desktop. The software includes word processing, spreadsheets, etc. from IBM Lotus Symphony; email from IBM Lotus Notes; and cloud-based tools from LotusLive.com

It is not clear whether Ubuntu Desktop can make a dent in Windows client operating system market share, but it is clear that Novell and Red Hat have not been successful and likely will not be successful. Linux vendors have been using security, TCO, and usability as the primary reasons that you should switch from Windows to Linux clients. Security is no longer a differentiator nor is usability, especially with Windows 7. And TCO is a weak argument without application availability. Many of the applications that we take for granted on Windows client operating systems are not available on Linux.

Novell tries to make a strong case for SLED over Windows Vista in a paper titled Lower Your TCO with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (PDF) citing lower TCO, better security, better productivity, etc. Red Hat pushes RHEL Desktop with its enterprise customers. The real hang-ups for Linux client operating systems are lack of applications and the cost/pain of moving from Windows to Linux.

I believe that the only way Linux clients can make a dent in Windows client operating systems’ market share is if the Linux vendors adopt a single Linux client operating system, such as Ubuntu Desktop (with a name change), and market and sell it against Windows. Commercial Linux vendors use the same code base for their Linux client operating systems as they use for their Linux server operating systems, but create separate DVDs for the bits. Even if we consider that cost saving practice, Linux vendors would save considerable engineering/marketing costs by collectively developing and selling a single Linux client operating system.

The open source community has gotten behind Firefox, and its market share has grown from 3.6% in 2004 to more than 20% in 2009. This could also happen to the Ubuntu client operating system with Linux community support. If Ubuntu client could garner 10% of the client operating system market by 2014, over 25 million copies of Ubuntu client would be sold, giving Linux client the volume that it needs to generate serious revenue and placing it on track to become a real competitor to Windows. At $5 per subscription, Ubuntu client would generate $125 million in 2014. Today, the average selling price of Linux client is under $10.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Claybrook is President of New River Marketing Research, a marketing research firm that focuses on Linux, open source software, and commercial grid computing.

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