NEW YORK—The battle over the Linux desktop is about to heat up, with Red Hat Inc. planning to bring an enterprise Linux desktop to market within the next year.
That move comes after Linux luminaries like its founder Linus Torvalds and Andrew Morton, his right-hand man and maintainer of the kernel, both said 2004 will be the year of the Linux desktop.
Red Hats upcoming move will put more pressure on Sun Microsystems Inc., which is aggressively pushing its Java Desktop System with good success, and Novell Inc., which last year acquired Ximian and SuSE Linux, allowing Novell to offer customers a complete Linux-solution stack and global technical Linux support.
It should also give Microsoft Corp. more to worry about, as the Redmond, Wash., company already perceives Linux as one of its greatest threats.
“In the year coming I think its safe to say that we will come out with an offering specifically aimed at the enterprise desktop user that will not only use existing Red Hat solutions but also some pieces that we and the open-source community are working on to make this a more complete offering,” Paul Cornier, executive vice president of Red Hat, in Raleigh, N.C., told eWEEK in an interview here ahead of the annual LinuxWorld conference.
But Cornier declined to give too many specifics about the offering. “We are, in association with the community, building parts of the product. The tools, the consistency within the operating system and across the user interfaces, more work is being done on expanding fonts. We are capable of doing more work on OpenOffice.
“So those are the kinds of things we are building toward so we can put together a more complete offering,” he said.
OpenOffice will be the productivity suite of choice in the upcoming enterprise desktop product, Cornier said, adding that Red Hat is adamant about staying within the community whether that is for the kernel or OpenOffice or the global file format. “Once you start to veer off, its Unix all over again,” he said.
But the calendaring and e-mail application was the challenge. While there are a couple of projects that Red Hat is working on and looking at, “I cant honestly say that we have chosen one as yet. Thats the killer application, calendaring even more so than e-mail, as there are already a number of e-mail solutions out there already today that just work,” he said.
The goal is to take different components from the open-source community and from Red Hats own product offerings and combine these into an enterprise desktop offering.
Cornier said its desktop offering will be sold under its enterprise annual subscription model and will not be limited to customers already running Red Hat Enterprise Linux on the server. “If people want to start with the desktop first, thats fine,” he said.
When asked by eWEEK why Red Hat has decided to do this now, Cornier said, “Were ready. The technology is ready. The community is ready. Our history as a company has always been very conservative, and the past few years we have concentrated on the enterprise.
“But, by focusing on the enterprise, you have to accept that you rarely get a second chance, and so we will only put things out when they are ready. We are now starting to see things coalesce, and we will do what we do best and integrate those pieces. We want the user desktop experience to be as good as possible,” he said.
While Red Hat could “live with the Linux kernel as it is from a desktop perspective, it has to get better in areas like plug-and-play hardware,” Cornier said. “To really get into a mass desktop, those technologies have to be pushed going forward. Taking plug and play all the way to hot swapping is where you want to go. That will blow the desktop wide open.”
But Cornier stressed that vendors cannot just succeed on the desktop alone. “You cant do the desktop without doing the server. You just cant win on the desktop alone,” he said. “We built the operating system from an architectural standpoint so you have the core base OS that every offering runs on top of. We guarantee for the lifecycle that users will have binary compatibility across the whole line and you are compiling on the desktop for things that are run on the server.”
Asked if Suns apparent success on the desktop through its Java Desktop System, which, despite its name, is powered by Linux, was behind Red Hats desktop decision, Cornier said Microsofts actions were more interesting than Suns.
Many Microsoft customers he has spoken to want to move away from Microsoft on the desktop, but are not citing Sun as a possible solution, he said.
The coming together of the various open-source Java implementations, particularly those of enterprise-grade, will drive Linux desktop adoption even faster, he said.