Linux Desktop Due

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2002-08-19 Print this article Print

Corporate desktop versions eyed, but user support lags.

Linux vendors are showing a renewed interest in developing a desktop version of the operating system to challenge Microsoft Corp. But many corporate users are simply not ready for—or not interested in—such a product.

Red Hat Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. and SuSE Linux AG each maintain there is interest in a corporate desktop offering, and all have plans or are investigating options.

Boris Nalbach, chief technology officer for SuSE, in Nuremberg, Germany, said he sees demand for a corporate desktop, particularly in Europe. The German government is looking to implement Linux servers and desktops, while corporations are installing tens of thousands of desktop systems, Nalbach said at LinuxWorld here last week. He confirmed the company is looking at a standardized corporate desktop offering but declined to give specifics.

Red Hat, of Raleigh, N.C., is working on a corporate desktop offering to be released early next year, officials said. "There is now a place, as well as demand, for a corporate desktop product with enterprise qualities that will allow it to be widely deployed," said Red Hat Vice President Mark de Visser.

Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president for software at Sun, in Santa Clara, Calif., said this is the year of the Linux desktop, reasoning that the desktop is no longer mission-critical to many businesses since many applications run on the network and in a browser.

Schwartz said the time is right to "bring together our StarOffice desktop productivity suite, desktop workstations, and talk about Java and our other desktop strategies."

Sun Chairman, President and CEO Scott McNealy also talked up the desktop at the conference, saying Linux is growing 30 percent a year on the client side. "At Sun, were also going to continue supporting desktop initiatives," McNealy said.

The only thing missing is widespread customer support.

Many enterprise users remain enthusiastic about Linux on the server, but the desktop does not create as much interest.

Andrew Care, CIO for Auckland-based Air New Zealand Ltd., said the airline is replacing 150 Hewlett-Packard Co. Compaq servers with a single IBM eServer Zseries mainframe running Linux and IBMs WebSphere Application Server software, allowing it to move off some 4,000 Microsoft Exchange e-mail, file and print clients to Bynari Inc.s open-source e-mail application.

Air New Zealand has deployed some Linux thin clients but said it believes Linux desktops have only niche use.

"What is needed before we consider moving is an office productivity suite that has functionality and applications comparable to Microsoft Office," Care said. "But, even more importantly, any Linux desktop will have to be completely compatible with Office and be able to translate and read all documents, templates and spreadsheets 100 percent."

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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