LINUXWORLD SF: Red Hat preparing desktop Linux

SAN FRANCISCO - Linux is taking another dip into desktop waters.

Open source operating system vendor Red Hat Inc. is preparing a version of Linux for use on corporate workstations, Michael Tiemann, chief technology officer of Red Hat, said in an interview Tuesday.

Traditionally, Linux has failed to make any impact on the desktop operating system market, which is dominated by Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system. But as major vendors including Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. 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, that will be the first version from the Raleigh, North Carolina, company designed for the desktop, Tiemann said. The company puts most of its effort behind an enterprise server version of the operating system called Red Hat Advanced Server.

Also Tuesday, Sun alluded to work it is doing to propel Linux onto the desktop. Its chairman, president and chief executive officer, Scott McNealy, said during his keynote here that Sun plans in September to detail work it is doing on a desktop version of Linux.

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 Inc., a company in which Dell Computer Corp., invested, which closed shop 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 U.S.," said Randy Groves, vice president at Dell, during a Tuesday news conference. 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 inquiries."

Driving the need for Linux on the desktop, Tiemann argued, is a growing dissatisfaction with desktop operating system leader Microsoft Corp., whose Windows operating systems are used on nearly 95 percent of the world's desktops, according to research company IDC. (IDC is a division of International Data Group, the parent company of IDG News Service.) Security problems and a new enterprise licensing plan for Windows have led IT organizations 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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