Linuxworld: Red Hat preparing desktop Linux

Open source operating system vendor Red Hat is preparing a version of Linux for use on corporate workstations, Michael Tiemann,...

Open source operating system vendor Red Hat is preparing a version of Linux for use on corporate workstations, Michael Tiemann, chief technology officer of Red Hat, said at the Linuxworld expo in San Francisco.

Traditionally, Linux has failed to make any impact on the desktop operating system market, which is dominated by Microsoft's Windows operating system. However as major vendors including Sun Microsystems, IBM and Hewlett-Packard throw their weight behind the open source operating system, Linux's chances on the desktop seem to have improved.

"There is a light at the end of the desktop tunnel," Tiemann said.

The company has released a beta version of its general purpose Red Hat Linux operating system, code-named Limbo, which will be the first version from the company designed for the desktop, Tiemann said. The company has previously concentrated on an enterprise server version of the operating system called Red Hat Advanced Server.

Meanwhile Sun Microsystems has alluded to work it is doing to propel Linux onto the desktop. Chairman, president and chief executive Scott McNealy, said that Sun plans to detail work it is doing on a desktop version of Linux in September.

While Linux has made inroads into the enterprise with increasing deployment on servers, it has not been widely adopted on the desktop. The most high-profile failure in this space was Eazel, a company in which Dell Computer invested, which went bankrupt in 2001 after failing to gain additional funding or an audience for its desktop Linux product.

In addition, Dell, a close partner of Red Hat, stopped selling individual PCs with Red Hat Linux preloaded, citing lack of demand for the machines. Customers can still purchase Linux machines from Dell if they order in bulk.

"We have clearly seen a limited amount [of demand for desktop Linux] to date in the US," Randy Groves, vice-president at Dell said. However he did note that some markets around the world have shown signs of life. "The interest in the desktop arena is probably growing," he said. "Workstations continue to be the area with most of the focus."

Red Hat said it will target those corporate workstations with a distribution that it said will be easier to use than the current version of Red Hat Linux. The call for a version of Linux that can be easily deployed and managed on desktop computers has come mainly from the financial services industry, where Red Hat has been gaining ground with customers that use its Advanced Server operating system to run various parts of their computer systems, Tiemann said.

"They all used to say to me, don't waste your time even thinking about the desktop," Tiemann said. "But over the past three months we've been getting enquiries."

Driving the need for Linux on the desktop, Tiemann argued, is a growing dissatisfaction with desktop operating system leader Microsoft, whose Windows operating systems are used on nearly 95% of the world's desktops, according to research company IDC. Security problems and a new enterprise licensing plan for Windows have led IT organisations to seek ways to drop Windows, Tiemann said.

Technical contributions to the Linux community from Sun, Intel and other major IT vendors also are adding new credibility to the once enigmatic operating system.

"This has resulted in advances in Linux desktop technologies that could not have been predicted one year ago," Tiemann said. "Linux now has a technology base that can compete."

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