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Results from the OSDL's 2006 Desktop Linux Survey
a guest column by the OSDL (Jan. 25, 2007)

Foreword: The OSDL's Desktop Linux Working Group has released a report summarizing the results of its 2006 Desktop Linux Client Survey. The report appears below; be sure to click each question in the list at the bottom of the page, to view a graph of each question's responses.

The group's concurrently-published 2006 "state of the Linux desktop" report can be found in a companion article, here:

Desktop Linux 2006: The Year in Review

2006 Desktop Linux Client Survey: Analysis

Prepared by the OSDL Desktop Linux (DTL) Working Group

Introduction: 2006 Desktop Linux Client Survey

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The OSDL Desktop Linux Working Group (DTL) is focused on accelerating the use of Linux on the enterprise desktop and identifying technical and social barriers to adoption. In October 2005, the DTL launched the first OSDL Desktop Linux Client survey. This year, the 2006 OSDL Linux Client Survey was launched during the month of November and received over 2500 responses. The goals of the survey were to determine the key factors driving Linux on the desktop, to identify major barriers to Linux desktop adoption, and to identify any trends that may surface since the last survey last year.

Discussion points
  • The application environment for Linux desktops
  • Peripheral support that is critical to Linux deployments
  • Factors which are driving decisions to deploy Linux on the desktop
  • Areas of focus for the Linux desktop community in 2007
  • The application environment for Linux desktops
  • The following barriers for deploying Linux desktops are (listed in order):
  • Application availability
  • Quality of peripheral support
  • End user training
  • Desktop management issues
We found that the top barrier (application availability) was by far the most critical to Linux desktop adoption. An analysis of the free form responses to factors that were putting the deployment of Linux on hold also showed the lack of applications for the Linux desktop leading the way. It is not that applications don't exist for the Linux desktop, but users grow accustomed to certain applications that they just can't live without. The application list is pretty similar to the list that was compiled from the survey in 2005. Leading the way were:
  • Microsoft Office
  • Adobe photoshop
  • AutoCAD and other Windowsbased
  • CAD/CAM applications
  • MS Project
  • Visio
  • Quickbooks
Other applications or capabilities that surfaced this time around were MS exchange compatibility, VPN (i.e. Activcard support), online meeting client software, smartphone synchronization of calendar and address book, Dreamweaver, and of course, games. Custom applications which are industry specific are almost always written for Windows without Linux ports or equivalent applications.

Applications that appeared on the critical list in 2005, but not in 2006 were email and messaging applications as well as browser and database applications.

Peripheral support that is critical to Linux deployments

The quality of peripheral support was listed right behind application availability in the list of barriers to Linux desktop deployments. The following peripheral device support was required to meet business needs (listed in order):
  • Printers
  • Personal storage devices (i.e. USB memory)
  • Scanners
  • Digital cameras
  • Mail and messaging devices
  • Web cam / video
  • Smartphones
It is interesting to note that if we combined the devices that are considered to be mobile communication devices (PDA devices, smart phones, tablets, and GPS), then mobile communication devices would have easily topped the list of business devices.

Survey responders indicated that printing has gotten significantly better in 2006. However, it is still difficult to buy a printer at your local electronics store and expect it to work out of the box on a Linux machine. While most printers are supported on Linux, there is still a lag from the time when a printer hits the market to when the driver driver is available and automatically installed on your computer by a commercial distro update.

Factors that are driving decisions to deploy Linux on the desktop

Applications, applications, applications.

Areas of focus for the Linux desktop community in 2007

Survey respondents were asked to send a message to the Linux desktop community. The focus areas that they requested were (in order of priority):
  • Open source drivers
  • Wireless
  • Linux desktop standards
  • Printing
  • Audio/multimedia
Open source drivers have been an issue for Linux desktops for a long time. The hard technical problems have been solved. The main factors holding back open source drivers are related to the size of the Linux market and protection of intellectual property. The wireless community has made huge strides in 2006 in supporting more wireless chip sets and more capabilities in the wireless software stack. Wireless support will always be in demand and will enable portable desktops (laptops) and mobile devices (smart phones).

When respondents say that Linux desktop standards are important, they are really saying that applications must be able to run across distributions and must be compatible with older releases of these distributions. Application vendors cannot afford to develop, distribute, and support applications across a fragmented Linux market.

Printing on a Linux desktop has made significant advancements in the number and types of printers that are supported. The desktop printing summits organized by the OSDL drew 40 people representing everybody from major hardware vendors and Linux distributors to consultants and standards organizations. This printing community is continuing to develop support for more printers and in standardizing methods for installing printers.

Desktop architects at the third Desktop Architects Meeting (DAM) in December identified audio on Linux to be a critical focus area and the community is organizing to help application vendors understand which audio interfaces to use. While audio can be made to work on a Linux desktop, problems with proprietary CODECs, audio configuration, and problems with multiple applications accessing a single audio device are being addressed by the desktop community. Look for some significant announcements early in 2007 which will address the use of proprietary CODECs.


Linux on the desktop grew and matured in 2006. While some analysts reported a stall in Linux penetration on the desktop in 2006, a number of significant milestones were reached that promise to continue to move the Linux desktop ahead in 2007. The most important changes to desktop Linux were all of the "under the hood" incremental improvements that took place around printing, plug-and-play support, laptop enablement and the arrival of the compositing manager that allows for modern graphics.

Graphs of 2006 Survey Responses

Please click on each survey question to view a chart of the responses:

Copyright (c) 2007 by the OSDL. All rights reserved. Reproduced by with permission.

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