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Desktop Summit '05: How to hit up the enterprise

A self-described Novell "marketing wonk" provides tips for getting your company to adopt Linux desktops. For starters, don't hype.

DEL MAR, Calif. -- With outreach a central theme of this week's Desktop Summit in Del Mar, Novell's Ted "Rev" Haeger, director of marketing for desktop and collaboration, offered strategies for those seeking to convert their companies to Linux shops.

Avoid the 'ready yet' trap
A common question from wary users is to ask if Linux is really ready for primetime. "People ask you this all the time and it's a crappy question," Haeger said, because it immediately assumes they're looking for something similar to Windows. Stress that what the company needs is something different -- something that can surpass Windows' functionality.

Desktop Summit '05: Time to turn Linux enthusiasts into evangelists
A theme of the third annual open source conference is for the user community to tout Linux for its security and reliability, not just lower costs.

If they still aren't satisfied, well, turn the question on them and ask, "Is Windows really ready?" Bring up the number of security holes found regularly in Microsoft products and the wealth of malicious code to exploit those vulnerabilities. If comparisons are inevitable, mention that the Web browser Firefox appears to be more secure than Internet Explorer, for example. Or that appears to be a viable alternative to Microsoft Word.

Don't inflate expectations
"Tell them what Linux is good for and not good for -- yet." By this Haeger means to make sure you don't oversell features or understate Linux desktop's learning curve, given some users will find it more technically challenging than others. He also noted that the Linux desktop, now nearing the height of a huge curve, is heading for a big fall in Gartner Group's "Hype Cycle", which tracks a technology's lifecycle from initial buzz to inflated expectations to eventual lower adoption rate. "We need to shallow out that trough before maturation sets in," he cautioned. The best way to do that is to pair Linux desktops with appropriately trained workers following a user assessment. "Linux desktops aren't for everyone," he warned.

Avoid the 'free' myth
Most operating system development is not happening for free but with money and donated manpower from user communities and commercial vendors. While free versions of software are widely available and attractive to cost-conscious companies, newcomers should consider buying enterprise versions that come with paid tech support to make the transition a little easier. That means that in-house proponents should play up Linux's security, reliability and flexibility and not just lower total costs of ownership. At the same time, do not hesitate to mention that because no company owns Linux, enterprises can easily move between commercial vendors. "So you're no longer under the thumb of any one business," said Haeger.

Back it up with real numbers
Quantify the switch with a cost analysis. Determine your company's return on investment adopting Linux desktops, turning to analysts when needed. Find success stories at businesses similar to yours. And remember to tout your own experiences as a Linux user, even if just a hobbyist. "You've got to step up and be that reliable deployment," Haeger concluded.

This was last published in February 2005

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