It seems that every year there are claims by some industry pundits that this is the “Year of Linux.” Obviously, they have been wrong to date. However, a couple things have happened recently that have led me to believe that, even if not in 2007, then by the end of the decade, Linux will have its year.

The first event was the rise of the Linux distribution Ubuntu. This is a truly amazing product, and I have been trying it out on an old machine at home for the last couple of weeks. What is great about it, as compared to Linux distributions in the past, is that it contains a complete system of OS and applications that would be enough for most users, and installs with a few clicks of the mouse; no geeks needed. You get OpenOffice, an open source answer to Microsoft Office that reads and writes the format (although not that of Office 2007 yet), FireFox web browser, an e-mail client and Outlook clone, media player, CD/DVD player/burner, lots of games, and the like. You are ready to go “right out of the box,” so to speak.

The second event was Dell’s decision to sell Ubuntu systems (desktops and laptops) to the home user. This is a major move by a major PC vendor (one often used by lawyers and the ABA) away from exclusively Windows platforms, and is the first crack in the ice. If other vendors get on board, more peripheral makers will write Linux drivers for their devices, and we will all be closer to a “Linux Year.” The questions still is, though, is Linux an option in the law office?

Despite the “out of the box” nature of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, today’s lawyer needs to do more than create an Office document, send e-mail, or surf the net. He or she needs to use case management, litigation support, and billing/accounting software as well. QuickBooks and Quicken are available for Windows and the Mac, but not Linux, unless it is an enterprise solution on a Linux server. The same is true Time/Billing Matters from Lexis/Nexus, Abacus Law, Timeslips, and the like. Just go to your software vendor’s web site and click on System Requirements to see for yourself. There is some good news for those who use Lotus Notes for everything. That will run on Linux, but how many solo and small firms have made that investment? Unless all you do on your office computer is use Office, Outlook, e-mail, and web browsing (or have the money for Lotus Notes), I just do not see where Linux is ready for the law office desktop. The only exception may be servers, as you can save money on hardware (Linux is not nearly as resource hungry as Windows, so it doesn’t need the latest, speedy processor and lots of RAM), but I would not recommend installing and configuring the Linux server software yourself; once you hire a consultant, the savings evaporate.

One possible use would be in the recycling of old office computers by bringing one home and putting Ubuntu Linux on it. Unless you or your kids are heavily into gaming, it should be of good use there, and there are thousands of software packages that can be downloaded and installed automatically by the system if there is something you need that is not on the desktop initially. I would suggest printing to a device on your home network, rather to one plugged into the Linux box, as printer drivers can also be scarce.

I expect that Linux will be ready for us once it becomes a great enough force in the market to be reckoned with, and then our software budgets will shrink dramatically. In the meantime, stick to your Windows PCs. If something changes, I will let you know. For a spirited discussion of whether this is the “Year of Linux,” check out Robert Scoble’s blog post and comments.