With Linux having become a big player in the server and data-center markets, the Linux frontier still remains the desktop. Linux mainstay Red Hat has said that it is planning a new, packaged Linux solution to better tackle that frontier.
The move comes in part as a competing strategy to Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise 10 platform. Enterprise 10, which was launched in the summer of 2006, included the SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) as well as the SuSE Linux Enterprise Server. A service pack for Novell's SLED is expected to be released soon. With SLED, Novell is concentrating on signing enterprise customers, such as a reported 20,000 desktops at Peugeot Citroen.
Red Hat officials have said that the company's new desktop offering, which will be announced in the next few months, will target small- and medium-sized businesses.
'Could Be Different'
Last week, Red Hat released a new version of its Linux OS, called Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL 5). It included both the RHEL 5 Advanced Platform for servers and an updated Enterprise Desktop. It also launched Red Hat Exchange, an online market where users can buy, sell, and rate open-source software from itself as well as from others.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with Yankee Group, called Red Hat's plans for the desktop
"Linux has done spectacularly well in grabbing market share in the server markets," she said, "but not much on the enterprise desktop." She noted that Red Hat, Novell, and others have been offering Linux for the desktop for a while, including desktop offerings in Red Hat's new RHEL 5 package.
But this "could be different," she said, "because a new desktop initiative could provide more marketing, could formalize the packaging, have more serious technical support and documentation, and, most importantly by far, could encourage the development and support for the make-or-break applications."
For businesses, she said, the incentive for Linux on the desktop is that it is an alternative to Microsoft. It might also be less expensive, she said, but "that remains to be seen." She noted that, if and when users move out of Windows XP, which some enterprises are considering, they could move to Vista, to Mac -- or possibly to Linux.
Incentive for Consumers?
The market now for Linux desktops is the small to medium business, she said, and Novell, Red Hat, and the others would like to migrate it to the consumer in five or six years. "But a lot of consumers don't have the incentive," she noted, adding that installing Linux yourself is a task most consumers have no interest in undertaking.
Novell is not exactly sitting still, either. On Tuesday, it released the SuSE Linux Enterprise Thin Client, including both its desktop software and a tool kit in support of "thin-client environments" such as call centers. Thin clients, Novell said, can simplify such tasks as application updates in the enterprise, by maintaining apps on the server and increasing security.
Novell officials have also recently said that Red Hat's increased interest in the desktop Linux market validates the effectiveness of Novell's approach.