LINUXWORLD SF: Sun pushes Linux on the desktop

SAN FRANCISCO - Debuting its first Linux server apparently wasn't enough for Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Linuxworld appearance: the company is now turning its sights to Linux on the desktop.

On Monday when Sun unwrapped its Sun LX50 server, a dual-processor system running the company's own version of the Linux operating system, executives took the stage at a San Francisco hotel to champion the server's merits and discuss its place in Sun's hardware arsenal. And while the LX50 garnered most of the attention, Sun executives also dropped hints about forthcoming news that could boost Linux's place on the desktop.

Scott McNealy, president, chief executive officer and chairman at Sun, went beyond hints during his Tuesday keynote here at the LinuxWorld conference.

"Linux is doing very well on the desktop," he said during the speech. "We love that. ... I want to encourage you to keep up work on the desktop," he continued. "You will hear more from Sun on how we are supporting the community on the client. Stay tuned; you will see more."

McNealy said to expect more news from Sun next month on its desktop work.

Others have worked to make an easy-to-use version of Linux to compete with Windows on the desktop, but those efforts have largely failed. Still, some companies such as Ximian Inc., Lindows.com Inc., Redmond Linux Corp. -- and now, apparently, Sun -- are trying to make Linux suitable for both business and home users on the desktop.

One analyst 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 Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of systems software research with IDC, in Framingham, Massachusetts. "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. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., for example, has started shipping computers with the LindowsOS preinstalled.

Sun could tempt Linux developers to do their software design work on a workstation running Sun Linux. McNealy championed the Wal-Mart model while taking a shot at competitor Dell Computer Corp.

"Don't go to Dell and buy a Windows PC," he said. "Go to Wal-Mart, you will get just as much technical support."

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, that make it possible to view and edit PC files on a Unix operating system.

Ximian also makes a product, called Connector, that allows Linux and Solaris clients to connect into a Microsoft Exchange 2000 server and appear similar to a Windows client. This makes it possible for Linux and Sun desktops to run Exchange e-mail, calendar and scheduling functions.

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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