Red Hat Introduces Desktop Linux Competitor

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2004-05-04

Red Hat Introduces Desktop Linux Competitor

Red Hat Inc. on Tuesday will announce its new desktop offering, the Red Hat Desktop, which the company said will be available by the middle of this month.

Red Hat currently offers an Enterprise Linux Workstation, which is based on the same operating system platform as its server products, as well as a Professional Workstation product, available through the retail channel, both of which were launched last October.

Read eWEEK Labs test drive of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.0.

The new desktop product is targeted at those Microsoft Corp. customers currently running Windows 98, NT and 2000 and who are looking at the end of support for their platforms from the Redmond, Wash., software maker.

Red Hat is also targeting those customers concerned about "lock-in" with the technology behind Longhorn [the next version of Windows] and where the operating system is headed and exactly what Microsoft will build into it. "Those are things that are starting to swirl around our prospective customers minds," said Mike Ferris, an enterprise Linux product manager for Raleigh N.C.-based Red Hat in an interview with eWEEK.

"We also have a pretty large installed base of Red Hat Linux and Enterprise Linux as well as customers with Unix desktops who are looking for replacements. This gives them pretty significant options moving forward," he said.

Better than expected sales of its enterprise lines boosted Red Hats last quarter and year-end results, reported in March. Read more here about its sales success.

The timing of the announcement of this new Red Hat Desktop appears to drive home that point as it comes on the same day that Microsoft executives Jim Allchin, the group vice president of platforms, and Bill Gates, the chief software architect, talk about their vision and roadmap for Longhorn, the next version of Windows, at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle.

Click here to read more about the keynote addresses.

Core technologies in this new desktop include GNOME; the Version 1.1 productivity suite; the Mozilla browser; Evolution, the Outlook-compatible groupware client; patch management and provisioning; and software from Adobe Systems Inc., Citrix Systems Inc., Macromedia Inc. and RealNetworks Inc.

How does OpenOffice stack up against Office 2003? Click here to read the eWEEK Labs evaluation of the productivity suites.

Ferris also said that Red Hats chosen desktop path was GNOME and that everything it did to build out that interface were part of its developmental efforts. "We do have support for KDE [eV] applications inside of GNOME, but we have placed our chips on the table around GNOME."

The company will also continue its open collaboration with the open-source and Linux communities, including the Fedora Project and on interoperability and standards with the Linux Standards Base, he said.

Click here to read an eWEEK Labs review of Fedora Core 2.

The Red Hat Desktop will be made available in configurations that include either Red Hat Network Proxy or Satellite Servers, which enable several clients to be deployed and managed simultaneously, while simplifying the security and management of systems.

Pricing for the new desktop will take two forms: for $2,500 a year, customers will receive a Red Hat Network Proxy starter pack that contains a Red Hat Network Proxy server, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Server Premium, and 10 kits each of desktops and desktop management modules. It will include 30 days of phone support and one year of Web-based support.

The second option, at $13,500 a year, is the Red Hat Network Satellite package, which includes everything in the Proxy starter pack, except the Proxy Server is replaced with a Satellite Server.

Extension packs for customers who want to extend an existing deployment of Red Hat Network or other Red Hat server products, or which could just be added to an environment, cost $3,500 a year for 50 desktop and management modules. A free evaluation for the Red Hat Desktop will also be available.

"This amounts to a little bit less than $6 a month per desktop. These packages include everything a user needs to deploy and manage the desktop. The management focus here is to emphasize the back-end infrastructure and the TCO savings customers will have. For new customers or those wanting to start a rollout, these packages give them that starting point," Ferris said.

The product will be available for purchase from Red Hat direct and from its Web site, as well as from its VAR distribution community. While no OEM distribution deals will be announced around this new desktop product, the company anticipates some relationships going forward.

Next Page: So, what took Red Hat so long?

So, what took Red

Hat so long?">

Asked why it took Red Hat so long to release a true desktop product and if the move was a reaction to Novells embrace of Linux and open source across its product line, Ferris said Red Hat had been looking at this desktop product for close to a year, well before the Novell acquisition of SuSE Linux Inc., and the company had wanted to make sure the technology was ready and focused on the open-source architecture and all the necessary roadmaps required to get to a secure and managed client.

Tuesdays announcement isjust part of a larger client strategy within the company, which is extending that family of products down to the client. "We are extending the Red Hat open-source architecture down into the client.

"One of the core components of that architecture is the operating system, and so we are taking that platform and providing the benefits of open source down to those clients that have existed," Ferris said.

"Red Hat had already announced some efforts with companies like Wind River [Systems Inc.], so if you look at the client strategy as part of the overall whole, what we are doing is building momentum around the focus on having an open architecture across the entire infrastructure, from the desktop and client all the way to the largest servers, including the mainframe," he said.

According to Ferris, the Red Hat Desktop is the first step in that strategy, and Red Hat will be taking a phased approach to the delivery of the technologies. The first phase will focus on the security and manageability of the clients, as well as incorporating this under a unified platform.

The second phase will involve more interoperability and productivity, things like assisting clients and migrations and helping them interoperate with existing infrastructures. "Think of Microsoft in that realm," he said. The third phase will focus on the thin client.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Version 3 and, likewise, Red Hat Desktop Version 3 will have some of this security manageability messaging, but the first phase will really kick with the release of Enterprise Linux and Red Hat Desktop Version 4, expected in the first quarter of 2005.

"So you will see a lot of the additional things coming out at the time and, likewise, there will be more interoperability that starts at that time. We certainly have some today, but from an infrastructure perspective around the open-source architecture, thats really where we start to implement things and then move on heavily into Version 5," he said.

Thin client and other infrastructures that allow the customer to control their desktops much more tightly will also start in Version 4 and move forward. "But the intent is to watch how customers are interacting with the data and start to mature the models around that rather than focusing in on what happens on an individual client or desktop," he said.

Customers are going through a shift in how they interact with data on the client and what they do moving to new hardware, Ferris observed. The shift is more about security and manageability, the "core themes of this desktop release," he said.

Asked if Red Hat saw Sun Microsystems Inc.s Java Desktop System as its primary competitor, Ferris said there are some primary differences between them and while the core functionality of the desktop is very similar, "the biggest difference is that we own the full stack whereas Sun is emphasizing the fact that theirs is a layer that sits on top of an operating system they happen to provide.

"Not only are we providing a desktop environment that includes the operating system and the applications for that operating system, but also that you are building out from the same code base that you can deploy your servers from. So, every time we release or update the unified Linux family, we will do it at the same time for the Red Hat desktop product," he said.

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