If this is the year of the Linux desktop, as Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president for software at Sun Microsystems Inc., has claimed, then someone should probably alert the major desktop hardware OEMs. Although Sun, in Santa Clara, Calif., recently announced plans to offer a Linux-based desktop product tied to a Sun back end, none of the major hardware OEMs currently offers an off-the-shelf desktop or notebook pre-installed with the open-source operating system.
OEMs have long sold desktops pre-installed with Microsoft Corp.s Windows software, essentially ensuring the software makers dominance of the desktop market. In fact, Linux stalwarts accuse OEMs of bowing to pressure from Microsoft to ship only desktops with the Windows desktop operating system.
Companies such as IBM and Dell Computer Corp. said thats nonsense. A lack of interest in desktop Linux on the part of corporate buyers is the real issue, they said. In 2000, Dell offered two notebook models pre-installed with Linux. The Round Rock, Texas, company pulled the notebooks from its lineup last year after seeing little demand, executives said. Dell customers that prefer to run Linux on the desktop need to order Dell OptiPlex desktops and Latitude notebooks through the companys Custom Factory Install service.
OEMs arent about to miss any potential Linux desktop revolution, though. While Hewlett-Packard Co. has no desktop Linux products on the market, executives at the Palo Alto, Calif., company said the post-merger company is still in the midst of developing an overall Linux strategy that includes the desktop market. HP offers the Red Hat Inc. Linux distribution on its line of Intel Corp. Pentium 4- and Xeon-based workstations and offers Red Hat Advanced Workstation on its Intel Itanium-based workstations.
Meanwhile, other vendors have positioned themselves as Linux solution providers rather than hardware vendors. Executives at IBM, for example, said they prefer to think of the Armonk, N.Y., company as a provider of Linux services and servers, not just desktop systems.
As for Sun, while details of its Project Mad Hatter desktop initiative remain sketchy, one things certain, officials said: The company will not be building its own Linux-based desktop machines. Instead, officials said, Sun will partner with an OEM for the gear.
"All the major PC OEMs are interested, but we are not going to add value to that component," said Mark Tolliver, Suns chief strategy officer, at the SunNetwork conference in San Francisco last month. Which OEMs Tolliver is referring to remains to be seen. If a major OEM is providing the low-end desktop PCs for Suns Linux system, its lying low for now.