Interest in Linux is accelerating because of the downturn in the economy, according to a study by IDC that was sponsored by Novell.

More than 72 percent of the 300 IT executives who responded to the survey said they are actively evaluating or have already decided to increase adoption of Linux server in 2009. On the desktop, 68 percent say they are evaluating or have decided to increase adoption of the open source operating system.

The top reason for migrating to Linux is economic and driven by the need to lower ongoing support costs, according to the survey. Of the respondents, 49 percent said Linux would be their primary server platform in five years.

"In the downturn, Linux might be the Wal-Mart of IT, where people get the most for their money," said Justin Steinman, vice president of solution and product marketing for Novell.

The survey comes at a time when Novell is nearing launch of the next version of its server and desktop operating system - Suse Linux - and Microsoft is expected to ship Windows 7 either later this year or in early 2010.

The survey also found that 67 percent of users said interoperability and manageability between Linux and Windows is one of the most important evaluation criteria.

Of those responding, the retail industry showed the greatest interest, with 63 percent planning to increase desktop deployments and 69 percent considering the same on the server.

The Linux desktop has been trying to find a significant foothold for years without much success, but the economy could be its greatest ally.

"If you think about it, we can deliver a full desktop operating system with everything from an office productivity suite to a web browser to email and do it for a list price of $50 (£40) and you can get it on a netbook, for example," says Steinman.

"When you look at the Microsoft cost with all the equivalent software it is a significant chunk of change."