Linux comes to the laptop, again

By Joel Shore, ITworld |  Opinion

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.

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