Linux Desktop Offering Targets Masses

Ark Linux aims to provide an easy-to-use Linux distribution for the masses.

The battle to try and dent Microsoft Corps dominance of the desktop operating system market is heating up, with Linux desktop distributions springing up from new companies and existing vendors alike—all hoping to cater to those disenchanted Microsoft Windows users.

Ark Linux has one of the newest offerings, and its stated goal is to provide an easy-to-use Linux distribution "for the masses."

"It is not our intent to take users away from other Linux distributions … it is our goal to provide a good desktop operating system," the company says on its Web site.

An alpha version of the Ark Linux H2O product is available for download from its Web site. Former Red Hat employee Bernhard Rosenkraenzer is involved in the project, which is maintained by a group of volunteers and describes itself as "a new GNU/Linux distribution meant for the average user."

While the distribution is based primarily on Red Hat Linux 7.3 and 8.0, Ark says it has added "a new easy-to-use installer and extensively tailored the software applications and utilities included in an effort to ensure that Ark Linux provides superior ease-of-use and the features and functionality end users have told us they want."

While admitting that plenty of good Linux distributions already exist for servers and for advanced users, Ark says that "so far, nobody has tried making an easy-to-use version of Linux for the masses, even though the KDE user interface makes Linux very easy to use."

But Ark Linux faces some formidable competition on the desktop front from Linux vendors Red Hat Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. and SuSE Linux AG, all of which are targeting the desktop market. But their products are geared more to the smaller office/home office and corporate market than the mass consumer market.

Last August at the LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco, all three firms maintained there was good interest in a corporate desktop offering. Boris Nalbach, the chief technology officer for Linux provider SuSE in Nuernberg, Germany, said he was seeing large demand for a corporate Linux desktop, particularly in Europe, from both the private and the public sector.

To meet this demand, SuSE will release its new office desktop offering, the SuSE Linux Office Desktop, at LinuxWorld in New York next week. This is the first time the product, based on the current SuSE Linux 8.1, will be publicly available. It will be priced at $129 and should hit retail stores the first week of February.

The new product also includes the CrossOver Office software from CodeWeavers Inc., which lets such applications as Microsoft Office 97 and 2000 and IBMs Lotus Software divisions Notes run. Suns StarOffice 6.0 desktop productivity suite will also be included, sources told eWEEK.

Red Hat vice president Mark de Visser told eWEEK at LinuxWorld last August that 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."

The open-source technology provider, based in Raleigh, N.C., is also working on a special corporate desktop offering, he said at that time.

For its part, Sun Microsystems, Inc. announced "Project Mad Hatter," last September, which is essentially the companys plan to bring to market a Linux desktop.

The new client desktop, which is expected to be widely available this year, will bring together off-the-shelf hardware, such as the Sun Ray thin client as the interface or a standard low-end desktop PC, and open-source technology—namely the Linux operating system, the Mozilla browser, OpenOffice, the Evolution e-mail client and the GNOME desktop environment.