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Study: Linux nears Windows XP usability

Researchers studied how easily users could perform tasks using the two operating systems

Linux, once viewed as an operating system that only computer geeks could appreciate, is today a much more user-friendly software that companies, public administrations and consumers can master almost as easily as Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP.

That's the core finding of a study published Aug. 1 by Relevantive AG, a Berlin-based company that specializes in consulting businesses on the usability of software and Web services.

The Relevantive usability study will be available for download in English in a few days, and comes as numerous government bodies and companies in Germany are migrating their IT systems away from Windows to Linux, while others are still debating the pros and cons of such a move. The independent study focuses on the use of Linux in companies and public-sector organizations, using Nuremburg, Germany-based SuSE Linux AG's Linux Professional 8.2 operating system software with the K Desktop Environment 3.1.2 graphical interface.

The researchers studied how easily two groups of users could perform tasks using the different operating systems. One group consisted of 60 users aged 25 to 55 with computer skills but no prior experience with Linux or Windows XP. They tested the preconfigured open-source software according to various criteria, such as the ease of creating and administrating files, copying CDs and performing some basic office tasks, such as composing a text and sending an e-mail.

The other group consisted of 20 users with the same qualifications who performed the exact same tasks on Windows XP.

The study findings suggest that it's almost as easy to perform most major office tasks using Linux as it is using Windows, which has a long history in the consumer market.

Linux users, for example, needed 44.5 minutes to perform a set of tasks, compared with 41.2 minutes required by the XP users. Furthermore, 80% of the Linux users believed that they needed only one week to become as competent with the new system as with their existing one, compared with 85% of the XP users.

But when it comes to the design of the desktop interface and programs, Windows XP still has a strong edge: 83% of the Linux users said they liked the design of the desktop and the programs, compared with 100% of the Windows XP users.

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