Linux, once viewed as an OS (operating system) only computer geeks could appreciate, is today a much more user-friendly software that companies and consumers can master almost as easily as Microsoft's Windows XP. That's the core finding of a study published by Relevantive, a Berlin-based company specialising in consulting firms on the usability of software and web services.

The Relevantive usability study comes as numerous government bodies and businesses in Germany's public and private sectors move to migrate their IT systems away from Windows to the Linux operating system, while others are still debating the pros and cons of such a move.

The independent study focuses on the use of Linux in companies. The researchers studied how easily two groups of users could perform tasks using the different operating systems.

One group consisted of 60 users between 25 and 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 new and existing files, copying CDs and performing some basic office tasks including sending an email.

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

The study's findings suggest it is almost as easy to perform most major office tasks using Linux as it is with 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 to 41.2 minutes required by the XP users. Furthermore, 80 percent 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 to 85 percent 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 percent of the Linux users said they liked the design of the desktop and the programs, compared to 100 percent of the Windows XP users.