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Sun hints at Linux desktop strategy

Sun is to deliver low-cost desktop computing based on Linux as an alternative to Microsoft.

At LinuxWorld in San Francisco, Scott McNealy, president, chief executive officer and chairman at Sun, said that Sun would be developing desktop Linux products in the future.

"You will hear more from Sun on how we are supporting the community on the client. "McNealy noted, "Linux is doing very well on the desktop." He said users should expect more news from Sun next month on its desktop work.

Dan Kusnetzky, vice-president of systems software research with IDC, said Sun could combine some of its existing products to make a version of Linux for the PC that would run Windows applications. Sun's open source StarOffice productivity suite is already bundled with most of the well-adopted Linux distributions.

"They have a couple of assets, particularly with StarOffice, that work with Microsoft Office files," said Kusnetzky. "They also have some technology that lets you run a good chunk of Windows applications on a Unix interface."

Sun could, potentially, roll out its Sun Linux version of Linux for workstations or team with a PC maker to distribute the OS, Kusnetzky said. Sun could tempt Linux developers to do their software design work on a workstation running Sun Linux.

Sun already has some technology that could play into its desktop Linux strategy. It is shipping a beta version of the popular GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) 2.0 graphical user interface for Solaris.

A final version of the software - which gives Linux a similar look and feel to Windows - will be shipping in the second half of this year, according to information on Sun's Web site.

In addition, Sun has a variety of applications, such as its PC Launcher and PC File Viewer software, which make it possible to view and edit PC files on a Unix operating system.

Accessing Windows server applications from Linux is entirely feasible. One company developing such software is Ximian, whose Connector software allows Linux and Solaris workstations to connect into a Microsoft Exchange 2000 server. This makes it possible for Linux and Sun desktops to run Exchange e-mail, calendar and scheduling functions: users do not need Windows or Outlook.

Sun has argued that the real growth area for Linux will be on the desktop and on smaller computing devices such as set-top boxes or terminals, or in household devices such as refrigerators. "We are very focused on the desktop," McNealy said.

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