Linux comes to the laptop, again

What's on those portable PCs you're selling? Windows? Well, sure it's

Windows; what else is there, right?

Well, there's Linux. It seems the pendulum swings gradually back and

forth, Linux is hot on the desktop, uh, no it isn't. This week it is.

On Aug. 3, at the LinuxWorld show in San Francisco, Hewlett-Packard

announced that it would market the HP Compaq nx5000 business notebook

PC. The operating system isn't Windows, but Novell's SuSE Linux. The

unit is equipped with the OpenOffice suite, CD-R/RW support, DVD and

media player, wireless and Bluetooth connectivity. It also includes the

Altiris Deployment Solution, management software for remote deployment,

management and updating of HP thin clients. The nx500 carries an

estimated street price starting at about $1,140; that's roughly $60 less

than if it had been equipped with Windows XP Professional.

According to HP, the Linux implementation is complete, with all the

drivers needed for power management, printing, and other operations.

When Linux first made its splash several years ago, Ransom Love, then

the CEO of Linux purveyor Caldera, told me we'd see Linux everywhere

within a few years. It would be on servers. On desktops. In your TV's

remote control. In your car. In your cell phone. And perhaps even in

your toaster-oven.

That, of course, has not come to pass. Caldera transformed itself in

SCO, purchased Unix and now sues those it claims use Linux without

paying licensing fees for the Unix or Unix-derivative code it contains.

Maybe they just got "SuSE" mixed up with "sues." But that's another

story.

The point is that Linux, mainly in the Red Hat and SuSE flavors, is a

widely accepted and commercially viable solution on servers, a worthy

alternative to Windows Server. Performance and price comparisons

notwithstanding, the likes of IBM and HP have built substantial

businesses selling Linux servers. And, of course, Linux is killing poor

Sun Solaris.

On the desktop, the story is very different. Available in close to a

dozen flavors just a few years ago, Linux on the desktop has not made

substantial inroads. Sure, it exists, but its deployment is spotty, not

widespread.

Part of the problem is the dearth of enterprise-worthy applications for

the Linux desktop.

But visit Linux.org and you'd think there is no shortage of desktop

software. It reminds me of the early 1980s when MS-DOS reigned supreme

and we could choose from perhaps two dozen word-processing solutions.

Under the "Office" category, 50 products are listed. It's like having

Electric Pencil, MultiMate, WordStar, XyWrite, WordPerfect, pfs:Write,

Sprint, Samna and Ami Pro, Timeworks WordWriter, Word, DisplayWrite,

Manuscript, Nota Bene, and others competing all over again. But this

time they have names like Lexi, Maxwell, Siag, and, of course,

StarOffice. You'll even find VetTux, a veterinary clinic management

system.

There are other applications categories, too. Applications aplenty, but

again, little of a rock-solid, enterprise-worthy nature.

There's also the issue of supporting Linux desktops. IT staffs, already

shorthanded, know Windows cold. But to develop expertise in Linux client

support requires an investment of time and money. No doubt businesses

willing to make that investment exist, but I imagine many others see no

need to allocate precious resources to fix something that really isn't

broken.

Nevertheless, HP has 6,500 Linux services and support professionals

worldwide, helping customers implement, manage and deploy Linux in their

mission-critical environments. Sure, that's all on the server side

today, but the core expertise exists and is transferable to the desktop.

No one can doubt HP's commitment.

If you sell Linux servers to your customers, you'll certainly want to

keep an eye on how well HP fares with its Linux notebook PC. If you're

100 percent Windows, well, you should keep an eye on it anyway.

Certainly your own customers will be asking questions.

It won't happen overnight, but HP could finally be the force that pushes

the Linux desktop pendulum back in the other direction.

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