Red Hat Exec: Linux Desktops Must Stand Out to Thrive

To persuade Windows users to make the switch, Linux desktops need to "provide something different and more useful," says the company's technical lead for desktop engineering.

PORTLAND, Ore.—Improvements to the desktop will require a greater Internet focus that enhances communication and collaboration; the ability for users to access their data anywhere; and the option of software as a service, Havoc Pennington, the technical lead for desktop engineering at Red Hat Inc., said here Wednesday.

In a session at the OReilly Open Source Convention here titled "Creating a Desktop Operating System," Pennington said users also need to be saved from acting as system administrators with tasks such as anti-virus updating.

Citing desktop operating system platforms from Windows to the Mac OS to the Fedora Core, Pennington said platforms continually evolve and that the Linux desktop is no exception.

Each platform creates a silo, or vertical stack of software, that works well together. Asking why so many platforms have been built, Pennington answered his own question by saying this saved work for developers who shared code among applications, and also created a better user experience.

A platform also includes specifications, not just code, while the applications themselves do not exist in a vacuum. "We now have first-class objects that can be manipulated by users and shared by multiple applications. This is the direction in which platforms are moving and greatly changes the way applications are written," he said.

But the major operating system platforms are all essentially fairly similar right now, so it is fairly easy to write a cross-platform application, he said, adding that the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, will bring a number of major changes and could change that equation.

Pennington also threw out the question of what it would take for Windows users to reject Longhorn, due in late 2005, and switch to Linux. "My personal editorial opinion is that it is a lot easier for us to provide something different and more useful and which provides other appealing functionality than it is to try and keep up with Microsoft and all the stuff it adds to its operating systems," Pennington said.

If the Linux desktop were exactly the same as Windows, there would be no reason for users to incur the time, cost and effort required to switch over, he said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about integrating Linux and Windows desktops.

Turning to where the Linux desktop is headed, Pennington said, "Each distribution will create an integrated Linux desktop designed as a whole. It will take time and competition to get the changes upstream.

"The desktops will share core APIs via and the X.Org Foundation. And if you maintain a core operating system component," Pennington appealed to the attendees, "please accept patches to make the desktop go and do not encourage platform proliferation."

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