To All Chicago Cubs and Linux Fans: A Tale of Two Analyst Perspectives

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This week week we saw news centered around two studies on desktop computing trends: one from Forrester Research and one from IDC. Both reports come from highly regarded firms and both seem to point to contradictory trends.

Bad news first. Linux fans are now being compared to Cubs fans. For you non-sports enthusiasts, the cubs haven’t won a world series since 1908. According to Ben Gray of Forrester, “as optimistic as Linux enthusiasts are and will forever remain, they’re beginning to sound like Cubs fans with the never-ending hope of ‘There’s always next year.’” The report cites survey research showing Windows Vista migrations as “ramping up” in the enterprise while Mac makes inroads and Linux continues to muddle along. The report states that “IT operations professionals need to prepare for a more decisive shift in their desktop operating system (OS) strategy.” In other words, when it comes to Microsoft Vista it is time to fish or cut bait. Tough advice in slow economic times.

Which leads me to the good news. IDC released a report this week citing Linux growth in a sector of computing which I have written about at length for over a year; the low cost netbook. According to IDC, “[the] PC Market Continues To Resist Economic Pressures With A Boost From Low Cost Portable PCs.” Most of these PC’s are Linux based with a smattering of Windows XP based netbooks as well (Vista doesn’t run well on these light weight PC’s). It seems while Forrester is predicting a gloomy future for Linux on the desktop, IDC is reporting on growth in a sector of computing where Linux does very well.

What are we to believe? First, both firms are calling the data like they see it. Forrester did a survey of their clients which are largely enterprise users of technolgy - typically the slowest to change. In fact, they even admit it, “Microsoft released Windows Vista to the general public more than 18 months ago — which is typically how long IT departments need to test their applications and hardware against any new OS.” IDC on the other hand is looking at quarterly PC tracking data which tends to pick up on rapidly developing trends in the market. IDC’s Loren Loverde, director of IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker states, “We continue to see a rapid transition to Portable PCs around the world, even as economic pressures rise. The trend reflects the increasing importance of computing, not just in the home or office, but as an integrated part of our lives. Falling prices, more design choice and competition for PC makers to capture this market continue to drive a rapid transition.”

According to Forrester there may not be a sea change to Linux desktops in the immediate future in the slower moving enterprise. However, in the broader world of PC sales it is worth noting that Linux based portable netbooks may be a leading indicator of things to come. Plus, from the looks of things the Cubs are having a pretty good year so far.