PCs running Linux are growing in popularity in part because they can be loaded with a pirated copy of Windows, according to a study from analyst Gartner.

The consulting firm issued a report on Wednesday stating that about 40 percent of Linux PCs will be modified to run an illegal copy of Windows, a bait-and-switch maneuver that lowers the cost of obtaining a Windows PC.

In emerging markets, where desktop Linux enjoys wider popularity, the trend is even starker. Around 80 percent of the time, Linux will be removed for a pirated copy of Windows. Pirated copies sell for around $1 in the streets of Shanghai and other cities in Asia and Eastern Europe, but can also be bought in stores selling brand name PCs.

As a result, the number of desktop Linux PCs that ship will exceed the actual percentage of Linux machines that get installed in the real world. Desktop Linux will account for about 5 percent of desktops shipped in 2004, according to Gartner, with 10.5 percent of the desktops in Asia shipping with Linux this year. However, the installed base of Linux will come to only 1.3 percent.

In 2008, Linux will account for 7.5 percent of PCs shipped, but only 2.6 percent of the installed base, about the same that Apple's installed base will be then.

A comparable lack of drivers, training costs and migration headaches will also retard desktop Linux growth.

"Linux on the desktop may be generating a lot of publicity, but there are very few large-scale dedicated Linux deployments," the firm stated. "Governments in several European countries have announced plans to migrate to Linux, but most of these projects are in the evaluation phase."

Price, of course, is a huge motivator in piracy. All of the components inside PCs have dropped in price in the past several years, except Windows. Windows accounted for around 5 percent to 6 percent of the cost of building a "professional"-level PC in 1996. Now, the operating system accounts for 12 percent to 15 percent of the cost.

Still, the growing acceptance of Linux has prompted Microsoft to hatch plans for releasing an inexpensive version of Windows, called Windows XP Starter Edition in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia and India.

"It is likely that Microsoft would prefer the initial OS on a new PC to be a Windows variant rather than Linux, even if piracy were to continue," the report stated. "This would reduce the amount of interest that Linux is generating because of its increasing presence on new PCs."

Gartner is a tough audience these days. In August, Gartner wrote a report criticizing Windows XP Starter Edition, claiming that it lacked some features and would "likely increase software piracy."

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Good artists copy, great artists
steal.

-Picasso