Linux is gaining ground with companies but Windows will continue to dominate consumer PCs in the near future. That is the non-contentious conclusion of the latest IDC research.

Linux is fast replacing Unix as the operating system of choice for companies worldwide, but the same success will not be repeated in the consumer market due to the current lack of support for the open-source operating software.

In the study, 14 percent of companies said they were replacing their Windows servers, 18 percent their Unix servers, and some 42 percent were taking out Netware. IDC analyst Rajnish Arora said the majority of the companies were actually migrating to a Windows-based server, but those who were replacing Unix were moving to Linux instead of Windows. Some 32 percent of companies who said they were replacing Solaris were moving to Linux for example.

However, CTO of Adeptiva Linux Stephan February admitted that consumers find it difficult to use Linux because of the lack of support compared to Windows. "There is no compelling need to shift to Linux today," he said.

Despite the availability of user-friendly graphical user interfaces similar to what Windows-based desktops have, Linux remains a very technical software product with few people outside the technical community are available to support consumer users.

February said most Windows users rely on relatives and friends for help whenever something goes wrong with their computers. This type of support network is not yet present for the Linux community. Even though there are numerous discussion boards on the Internet whose members can readily help, most consumers still feel uncomfortable with that kind of support model, he said.

Goh Seow Hiong, director for software policy of the Business Software Alliance - which has close ties with Microsoft - agreed that most consumers are not yet ready for Linux. Goh explained that even with his technical background, he could not set up his Linux installation properly to work with his computer’s graphics card. People with lesser technical know-how will certainly feel lost if they encounter a problem with their Linux computers, he said.

Even with the apparent success in some countries of vendors selling lower-cost desktop computers installed with Linux operating software, Goh remains unimpressed. "People are buying these Linux desktops and replacing it with pirated Windows OS," he said.

Adeptiva’s February said he will not advise consumers to make a shift to Linux today, but business users should seriously consider making the move. "Business users have a compelling reason to move to Linux because it lowers cost and solves some of the biggest problems haunting user productivity which include spyware, viruses,and worms," he said. Windows-base machines are typically more vulnerable.

The momentum that will drive Linux will indeed come from the business community, observed Steve McWithers, managing director of Red Hat for Asia Pacific. Red Hat is in the process of setting up a regional office in Singapore that will oversee the company’s sales efforts in China and India, two of the fastest emerging markets for Linux.

The rollout of Linux-based desktops has done "exceptionally well" in these countries, he explained. Still, he said, the main driver for Linux will come from the business market, where companies will typically have small deployments of Linux in their businesses which will then eventually grow and slowly dominate the companies' IT infrastructure.

"People will download it first and then they will eventually call for support because they’ll realise that they’re already running their whole enterprise on Linux," he said.