Linux faces a bleak future on the desktop if Microsoft fails to port its applications to the open source operating system, according to analysts.
By 2003, IDC forecasts that only 40,000 users in Western Europe will have Linux on the desktop if Microsoft fails to port its applications, compared to over four million if it does.
IDC makes predictions based on these two scenarios for Linux use among mainstream single users, in a soon to be launched report titled Linux in Western Europe: Now and in Five Years based on a survey of over 1,000 organisations, and user groups.
Lars Rasmussen, senior analyst at IDC, said that although many vendors have ported their applications to Linux, it is Microsoft's actions that really count. "In the desktop market, other products by vendors such as Corel and Star Office are inferior compared to the Microsoft applications."
He added: "Out of the 1,000 organisations we surveyed, only ten were using Linux as an operating system on the desktop."
Rasmussen said he believes that Microsoft could port its applications to Linux in the future depending on the outcome of certain events including the anti-trust trial Microsoft is facing in the US.
"Microsoft could be forced to separate into different divisions so its operating system and applications business are forced apart. The applications division could then decide to port to Linux operating system," he said.
Microsoft's decision may also be influenced by the increasing trend towards porting niche applications, such as engineering applications, to Linux. "If a lot of technically-related applications such as CAD applications are ported to Linux, then Microsoft might want to cash in on that market," said Rasmussen.
Rasmussen also believes Microsoft may have to support multiple operating systems in the future as sharing of information between departments increases. "Ten years ago departments were separated and there were hierarchies of information, but now communication barriers are breaking down," he said.
A spokesperson for Microsoft said: "At this time there are no plans for Microsoft to develop applications for Linux. Linux does not yet have the broad customer demand, support structures or development community in place that a platform should have to warrant making such a resource-intensive business decision."
"However, Microsoft will continue to evaluate the market place and base its decisions on what customers want," the Microsoft spokesman added.
Mitul Mehta, group research manager at researchers Frost & Sullivan in the UK said: "I imagine Bill Gates is being very smart and will react to where the money is, the same as he did with Java. But if there is a market need for Linux-enabled Microsoft applications, how he reacts and how Microsoft slows it down will have to be seen."
Corel outlined its Linux roadmap on the desktop in a white paper earlier this year. It stated: "Many organisations are not ready to move Linux to individual desktops because it is radically different from standard Windows and Macintosh operating systems and difficult to learn if users do not have previous Unix experience."
"Corel's goal is to eliminate the current barriers of Linux such as general lack of applications and offer Linux to a wide variety of users who would not have considered it a viable alternative in the past."
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