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.”
An Open Office
Oracle Corp. CEO and Chairman Larry Ellison, in Redwood Shores, Calif., agreed, saying the biggest impediment to Linux on the desktop is the entrenchment of Office. Ellison said the biggest need is for an open-source response to Office that has enough capabilities and includes support for sharing files between environments.
Nat Friedman, co-founder and vice president of Linux desktop developer Ximian Inc., of Boston, agreed that interoperability with Office is the biggest issue in corporate adoption of the Linux desktop.
“For a long time, usability was the big issue, but that is no longer the case. Microsoft protocols and file formats are. It takes us two years to write compatibility with any Microsoft product into ours,” Friedman said.
Despite the publicity surrounding Microsofts recently launched program to license 113 communications protocols to promote vendor interoperability, Friedman said these were hollow gestures that will not improve interoperability.
Scott Johnson, vice president of business development for HRsmart.com, a business-to-business application service provider in Plano, Texas, also expressed concern about the issue of Microsoft interoperability.
“While I welcome a dedicated corporate version of the Linux desktop, the issue for us on the business side would be interoperability with Office and other Microsoft products,” Johnson said. “As such, any Linux desktop implementation would have to be phased in, starting with those staff who dont need the interoperability and functionality of Office.”
The Chinese government, an avid proponent of Linux and open-source software, said it believes that the desktop has a way to go. Jiang Guang-Zhi, director of the Beijing Software Industry Productivity Center, said the Linux desktop operating system “is not mature enough to meet all of our customer requirements.”
Large OEMs such as IBM and Dell Computer Corp. also admit that corporate demand for a Linux desktop is slow.
Randy Groves, a vice president at Dell, in Round Rock, Texas, said he has seen limited interest in the United States concerning Linux desktops, although demand in China and the Far East is increasing.
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