Industry analysts and tech junkies all seem to agree that the problems staving off Linux desktop adoption are focused on the availability of applications coupled with the complexity of implementing and maintaining those apps. The solution, they say, is to make more Linux-native applications available, and to standardize the technology to a point where mainstream users can really use it. In other words, to make it more like Windows in these respects. This is indeed a lofty goal.
In working with a large community of Linux resellers and system integrators, it becomes clear that the lack of certain applications for Linux does indeed keep customers from adopting the desktop platform. However, what also becomes clear is that the applications desired aren't going to be available for Linux. These key applications are Microsoft Office and QuickBooks. By volume, they are the most widely distributed and utilized applications in small business.
There are numerous alternatives to the Office applications, and the offerings in the open source community represent real contenders. But productivity alone isn't enough to get the desktop platform switched. Accounting applications are key when working with businesses. Finding a contender with similar usability and support to QuickBooks won't happen - Intuit has been at it for too long. And QuickBooks isn't going to be native to Linux any time soon. So, what is the answer?
The answer is utility computing. Sever-based computing, application hosting services, software-as-a-service... whatever the name - it's the answer.
Hosted applications can provide the desktop environment, integration, and applications that users want and that businesses require. When the applications and the computing environment are delivered, the local desktop platform becomes irrelevant and technical implementation becomes inconsequential to the end-user. This solves the two key issues identified as barriers to broad desktop Linux adoption in business.
The desktop hosting model, specifically, offers additional benefits to the business in terms of migrating applications from the desktop to server-based models, and then to web-based models. Once the requirement to locally install and manage applications and services is reduced or eliminated, then the overall network administration becomes easier and less costly. Users are able to adopt an "Internet-based" working model without having to adopt Web-based application technologies at the same time.
Once the business has adopted a virtual working model, then the ability to begin layering other applications and services - based on Web technologies - becomes seamless. Integration of Web-based application data with desktop application data is viable when the desktop application and data are also contained within the datacenter. Now, businesses can extend applications and data to all users in the enterprise, providing access to tools specifically oriented towards the individual job functions. Combinations of Web applications and desktop applications can safely and securely integrate, because they are all present in the managed infrastructure.
So - Hosted application delivery models enable the enterprise to use what it needs and wants in terms of applications, but provides the option of choice for the desktop OS platform. Isn't this really the answer - for Linux adoption and a better way of working overall?