Desktop Linux is good enough to supplant Windows in a number of enterprise desktop roles, and it has been for some time now. However, major enterprise Linux vendors—most notably Red Hat Inc.—have been too busy until recently with server-room Linux to produce desktop products with the sort of management frameworks and stable product road maps that enterprises require. That changed with the release last month of two desktop Linux variants from major enterprise players: Sun Microsystems Inc.s Java Desktop System 2 and Red Hats Red Hat Desktop.
eWEEK Labs tests show that both products feature pretty much the same set of software components. The difference between the two boils down to the quality and scope of their management tools, as well as the overall attention to detail with which each product was assembled.
We found that, in all these areas, Suns Java Desktop System 2 edges out Red Hat Desktop. Well go as far as to say Java Desktop System advances the state of enterprise desktop Linux—enough so that weve given it an Analysts Choice award.
Java Desktop System 2 is Suns second crack at the corporate desktop. We were impressed by the improvements that Sun has introduced since the first version. One of the biggest enhancements is a capable management framework that provides the broadest set of management tools weve yet seen for the Linux desktop.
Red Hat Desktop is the first product from Red Hat specifically targeted at the corporate desktop, and the offering showed its immaturity in tests. Its basically a less expensive version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 with fewer features. Very little has been done to make the operating system better suited for the desktop.
That said, Red Hat Desktop is still a strong distribution that will perform well for companies that already run Red Hat Enterprise Linux servers and want to plug a batch of desktops into their Red Hat management infrastructure.
Both distributions will work well in simple, Web-terminal-type roles; for more ambitious deployments, its really a matter of which applications users require.
Java Desktop System 2 and Red Hat Desktop will work well for basic desktop needs, such as messaging and office productivity. However, companies that continue to standardize on Microsoft Corp. Office document formats may never be completely free of small file-compatibility issues. Although options for running Windows applications on Linux—such as CodeWeavers Inc.s CrossOver Office—have been improving, they should be viewed more as workaround tools than as drop-in replacements.
Java Desktop System 2 and Red Hat Desktop can be a fit as developer workstations because they ship with good development tools: Java Desktop System comes with Suns JDK (Java Development Kit), Sun Java System Studio and NetBeans, and Red Hat Desktop comes with Eclipse and the Lomboz Eclipse plug-in, a tool kit for J2EE (Java 2, Enterprise Edition) development.
Java Desktop System 2, including management tools, costs $100 per machine per year or $50 per employee per year (for unlimited seats). Red Hat Desktop costs about $70 per machine per year. Red Hats management tools can cost extra, depending on the management framework chosen, although the desktop system does ship with a copy of Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Server, Premium Edition.
Both desktop Linux systems ship with a productivity suite, making their cost significantly lower than that of a comparable setup from Microsoft or Apple Computer Inc.
Red Hat Desktop ships with Version 2.4.21 of the Linux kernel, and Java Desktop System 2 includes Version 2.4.19.
Both products run on x86 hardware. Sun recommends running Java Desktop System 2 on a 600MHz Intel Corp. Pentium III or better processor, 4GB of hard disk space and at least 256MB of RAM. Red Hat Desktop runs well on a similar setup and supports Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s AMD64 and Intels EM64T architectures.