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Bergen’s Not a Bellwether

Norway city's long-ago decision to adopt Linux for the desktop is postponed but isn't a reflection of the technology.

The City of Bergen’s announcement that they are putting their Linux desktop migration on hold has garnered a fair amount of ink this week. The occasion has produced the opportunity for analyst and editors alike to snicker at Linux a bit, calling the Bergen deal a blow to the public relations of Desktop Linux and further proof that the OS isn’t ready for enterprise end-users. Maybe, but I’m not sure that you can bind the decisions of a single city on the Southeast coast of Norway with the readiness of a technology. The city of Bergen made a business decision, and they probably made the right one for them.

While Bergen is the second largest city in Norway, it has a population of less than 250,000. As a result, they have constrained resources and while Linux may be cheaper than Windows, migration costs can quickly eat into IT budgets. And Bergen should know, because all of their servers have been migrated to Linux.

One of things that is being slightly overshadowed here is that the City of Bergen has already committed to Linux with a large server deployment, aided by Novell. It was the success of that commitment that led them to make their desktop Linux announcement.

“The City of Bergen focused on freedom of choice and competition when it decided to use Linux on its servers two years ago. Freedom of choice and competition is still a top priority for the City of Bergen,” Lars Tveit, director of Competition and Development for City of Bergen, said in a statement.

Anyone that works in an enterprise setting is well aware that while priorities may not change, budgets do.

Another thing it’s important to remember is that the City of Bergen announced this desktop migration plan in 2004. While only a couple of years ago, if you cast your memory back, it seems like ages have passed: The 2.6 Kernel wasn’t out yet, Novell had just bought SUSE, and SCO was knee deep in it’s new business model focused on shaky lawsuits. The IT landscape was considerably different back then, which is why their announcement made such an impact.

“In today’s terms I don’t think this decision carries the weight it did in 2004,” said John Punzak, Director of State and Local Government for Red Hat, who’s division has seen 150% quarterly growth in recent years. “It’s a single project. We see schools and municipalities choose Linux all the time now.”

Kevan Barney, Novell spokesperson, agrees, “Had the City of Bergen cancelled the project for technology reasons, it would be a very different story. But what their doing is pushing out the timeframe.”

While every project is important, one deal doesn’t make or break an industry. Today, datacenter Linux is a mainstream technology and the desktop market is growing. With each release of an enterprise disto you can expect increased marketshare.

“Desktop Linux is all about the applications,” said Doug Small, WW Marketing Director of Linux and Open Source for HP. “As more applications become available, you see more users adopting it. A desktop like Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise 10, for example, does a pretty good job of identifying all the applications business users need.”

If that’s the case, you’re probably asking why the city of Bergen didn’t bite.

“SLED 10 hasn’t been out that long — I really doubt if they’ve seen it,” said Novell’s Barney. “And even if they had it wouldn’t have changed their mind. This was a business decision independent of the technology. Some of the reports are painting this as a vote for Microsoft over Linux, that’s incorrect. It’s true they’ve made the decision to postpone the move to Linux for another couple of years, but they won’t be moving to Windows Vista in that timeframe either.”

Bryan Richard is the Editoral Director of Linux Magazine.

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