Linux Desktop Due

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."