Red Hat Exec: Linux Desktops Must Stand Out to Thrive

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2004-07-28 Print this article Print

To persuade Windows users to make the switch, Linux desktops need to "provide something different and more useful," says the company's technical lead for desktop engineering.

PORTLAND, Ore.—Improvements to the desktop will require a greater Internet focus that enhances communication and collaboration; the ability for users to access their data anywhere; and the option of software as a service, Havoc Pennington, the technical lead for desktop engineering at Red Hat Inc., said here Wednesday. In a session at the OReilly Open Source Convention here titled "Creating a Desktop Operating System," Pennington said users also need to be saved from acting as system administrators with tasks such as anti-virus updating. Citing desktop operating system platforms from Windows to the Mac OS to the Fedora Core, Pennington said platforms continually evolve and that the Linux desktop is no exception.
Each platform creates a silo, or vertical stack of software, that works well together. Asking why so many platforms have been built, Pennington answered his own question by saying this saved work for developers who shared code among applications, and also created a better user experience.
A platform also includes specifications, not just code, while the applications themselves do not exist in a vacuum. "We now have first-class objects that can be manipulated by users and shared by multiple applications. This is the direction in which platforms are moving and greatly changes the way applications are written," he said. But the major operating system platforms are all essentially fairly similar right now, so it is fairly easy to write a cross-platform application, he said, adding that the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, will bring a number of major changes and could change that equation. Pennington also threw out the question of what it would take for Windows users to reject Longhorn, due in late 2005, and switch to Linux. "My personal editorial opinion is that it is a lot easier for us to provide something different and more useful and which provides other appealing functionality than it is to try and keep up with Microsoft and all the stuff it adds to its operating systems," Pennington said. If the Linux desktop were exactly the same as Windows, there would be no reason for users to incur the time, cost and effort required to switch over, he said. Click here to read about integrating Linux and Windows desktops. Turning to where the Linux desktop is headed, Pennington said, "Each distribution will create an integrated Linux desktop designed as a whole. It will take time and competition to get the changes upstream. "The desktops will share core APIs via and the X.Org Foundation. And if you maintain a core operating system component," Pennington appealed to the attendees, "please accept patches to make the desktop go and do not encourage platform proliferation." Check out eWEEK.coms Linux & Open Source Center at for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

Be sure to add our Linux news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page

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


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel