Users to choose as Microsoft rivals mature

DesKtop management Intel's Developer Forum kicks off this week and, with a host of Microsoft alternatives coming of age, there is...

DesKtop management Intel's Developer Forum kicks off this week and, with a host of Microsoft alternatives coming of age, there is a strong focus on the future of the desktop

Intel's Developer Forum kicks off today (7 September) with the chip giant ready to announce a number of future technologies that will allow organisations to gainefficiencies from their hardware and IT infrastructures.

Users will have to wait two years or more, however, for many of the desktop technologies unveiled in the show to reach the mainstream. In the meantime new trends are emerging in managing desktops that can improve efficiency and drive down costs.

There are now real alternatives to Microsoft Windows. New, flexible software licensing models are also available; while on-demand desktop services are on the increase, as are options for firms that want to hand over their desktop management to a third party.

According to analyst Meta Group, a single PC costs between £1,100 and £2,800 a year to manage with IT helpdesk support, fixes and maintenance. So, over the life of the PC, the running costs far outweigh the capital costs.

Some organisations are considering Linux on the desktop as a viable option to Windows, to reduce these costs.

Simon Yates, senior analyst at Forrester Research, said, "For those firms that do plan to deploy Linux to some extent, the primary motivators are lower total cost of PC ownership, easier and cheaper operating system licensing, and lower cost of hardware and applications."

IBM, Sun, Novell and Red Hat are targeting Windows desktop users, with Linux or Unix variants and applications designed for the desktop. As an indication of possible future trends, in July Allied Irish Bank chose to switch its 7,500 desktop PCs from Windows to a Linux-based Java system.

Novell, renowned for the past 20 years for its Netware network management software, is planning to launch enterprise Linux-based desktops towards the end of the year.

It will combine the best features of Ximian Desktop and SuSE Linux Desktop, which shipped separately last year, into a single Novell desktop.

Novell has a major distribution channel and significant experience in Windows desktop support. It will bring this experience to Linux. "That's the sort of confidence that customers are looking for," said John Holden, research analyst for Butler Group. "Novell could pull in a lot of business."

The supplier also plans to add parts of the Mono Project, the open-source version of Microsoft's .net framework, to the desktop, creating new applications built on Mono.

Gary Barnett, IT research director at analyst firm Ovum, said, "With Mono, Visual Basic developers will be able to develop applications on Linux, and this will drive Linux adoption."

Another possible alternative to Windows on the desktop will be Sun's Java Desktop System (JDS) running on Solaris 10, also due out by the end of the year.

Sun plans to make Solaris 10 "100% compatible" with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3, and Linux applications, through its Project Janus. Sun is initially targeting academic institutions, government agencies and transaction workers with JDS.

Barnett said, "Novell, and Sun with its Java desktop, have realised the real issue is usability and manageability. But Microsoft figured this out, too. With Windows 2000 came far greater manageability and it was easier to do things like managing profiles."

He added that the actual cost of PC hardware and software for the life of the PC was low compared to issues such as downtime, desktop management, maintenance and training.

"This is important because cost is one of the factors people look at when they consider Linux. But the fact that Linux is free or cheap won't necessarily have a huge impact on total cost of ownership," he said.

Holden, said, "We don't think Linux will take over the world, but it will see more gains in the public sector." The City of Munich, for example, is changing 14,000 desktops from Windows to Linux.

He added, "Linux on the desktop will get a share, but not a major share, because Microsoft has such a hold on the desktop, and it's a major task to change."

Randstad uses on-demand PC service       

IBM has taken on-demand services to their logical conclusion with its agreement in April to manage all the desktops for Randstad Employment Bureau.   Randstad is the first UK firm to use IBM's PC on-demand desktop management service and is expecting to save about £650,000 a year by using the service to standardise its IT infrastructure, said Patrick Green, director of business services at the company.  "We had quite an antiquated IT infrastructure with a mish-mash of different systems as a result of an acquisition in 2001," he said. "Offering effective IT support has been difficult as it would take a long time to work out what the problem actually was. The deal will give us flexibility for our disparate users."

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