Picking a penguin to run the desktop

The year 2004 was supposed to be the defining moment for Linux on the desktop, but year-end figures and estimates showed that Linux hardly made a dent on Microsoft’s grip on the desktop operating system market. Analyst firm Gartner approximated that Linux held only 1% of the market in 2004 compared to Apple MacOS’ 2.8% and Microsoft Windows’ 96%. Meanwhile, IDC’s ballpark figures for that year showed that around six million Linux PCs were shipped or redeployed.

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By  Peter Branton Published  March 13, 2005

Introduction|~||~||~|The year 2004 was supposed to be the defining moment for Linux on the desktop, but year-end figures and estimates showed that Linux hardly made a dent on Microsoft’s grip on the desktop operating system market. Analyst firm Gartner approximated that Linux held only 1% of the market in 2004 compared to Apple MacOS’ 2.8% and Microsoft Windows’ 96%. Meanwhile, IDC’s ballpark figures for that year showed that around six million Linux PCs were shipped or redeployed. User experience, availability of applications, ease of maintenance and stability are some of the chief concerns people have about Linux. But perhaps the biggest challenge vendors face in the market is more cultural in nature. According to Jamie Bliss, software sales manager, Sun Microsystems Middle East and North Africa, this mindset is being brought about by users’ long-term dependency on Windows. “Companies have generally not adopted [Linux on the desktop] for a number of reasons,” says Bliss. “Prior to open source, companies had to look for interoperability between the vendors, which was not always forthcoming. There is one vendor that dominates the desktop market and tries to keep its hold on the market through proprietary coding. They have put a lot of technological dependency on the desktop operating system. For this reason, all the client-side applications that were developed were designed only for use on the one operating system.” “There has also been a concern that users would find a Linux desktop entirely different to what they had been using previously, whereas the reality is that the graphical user interface looks remarkably the same as to what they are already used to,” adds Bliss. “Still others, especially home users, have also been concerned about driver availability for their USB-based accessories and peripherals.” However, several vendors have remained staunch supporters of the operating system, and built desktop initiatives around Linux. HP and IBM offer Linux-based desktop PCs, while Open Office, Mozilla, Real Networks, Adobe Systems and Macromedia — to name a few — all provide applications running on Linux. In recent months, Red Hat, Novell and Sun Microsystems have all made key product announcements to beef up their Linux offerings on the desktop. Here we take a look at what the three vendors have to offer. ||**||Novell|~||~||~|Following its acquisition of open source software companies SuSE Linx and Ximian, Novell released the Novell Linux Desktop 9, a general-purpose desktop platform based on the open source environment. It is built on top of SuSE Enterprise Linux version 9.0, and includes the Novell Evolution for e-mail and collaboration, and the Novell iFolder, a storage solution that lets you back up, access and manage personal files and share them to any PC you are using. Novell Linux Desktop 9 includes third-party software such as Mozilla’s Firefox web browser, the OpenOffice.org 1.1.x (Novell Edition) as its office productivity suite, Adobe Reader, Citrix ICA client software, Macromedia Flash Player and RealPlayer software. In spite of its extensive capabilities as a desktop alternative, the company does not consider Novell Linux Desktop 9 to be a major threat to Microsoft. Instead, it is positioning the platform as a test bed for enterprises to evaluate the capabilities of Linux when used on the desktop. “In recent years, the IT industry has been asking when Linux will be ready to take on the desktop,” says Jack Messman, Novell chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement. “Novell is focusing its enterprise desktop efforts on Linux deployments where users can gain the most benefit.” “Novell Linux Desktop is not about the wholesale replacement of your Windows systems, but rather it’s about identifying where and when an open source desktop can be a sensible, cost-effective alternative. In our pragmatic view, the time is now for specific desktop users to reap the benefits of open source,” he added. “Linux on the desktop is in its infancy. Microsoft has owned the desktop for many years and the change to Linux will be a migration, not a revolution,” says Martin Smith, director of operations, Novell Eastern Europe, Middle East, Turkey and Africa. “Novell’s Linux Desktop has only been on the market for a few months. The change from a Microsoft world to a Linux world cannot happen overnight,” adds Smith. ||**||Red Hat|~||~||~|Contrary to Novell’s desktop stance, Red Hat is clearly promoting its Red Hat Desktop 4, which was released last month, as a replacement for Windows. The company is not new to the desktop business. It has been developing open source-based desktop operating systems since 1994, when it came out with its first product, Red Hat Linux. However at that time, Red Hat’s desktop systems were mostly aimed at a select group of users. For instance, Red Hat 8.0, a latter version of the system, catered to call centres and financial institutions, which needed only Word and Excel, and technical users who needed to consolidate their high-end applications into one machine rather than having separate Unix and PC workstations. It was the launch of Red Hat Desktop, in May 2004. that clearly stamped Red Hat’s assault against the Windows operating system. And with its latest version, Red Hat Desktop 4, the company hopes to take a significant chunk of the market. Like Novell Linux Desktop, Red Hat Desktop 4 also features applications from Adobe, Citrix, Real Player, Macromedia, Firefox and OpenOffice.org. It is primarily focused on enterprise and commercial markets, but small- and medium-sized businesses can use it in their environments as well. According to Paul Salazar, Red Hat’s director of marketing for Europe, Middle East and Africa, manageability was a design priority. “We have built our desktop technology with manageability as one of the most important elements,” he says. On top of that, Red Hat is touting its new security features to ensure that vulnerabilities users are facing today with Windows will not be replicated in Red Hat Desktop 4, says Salazar. “SELinux is a security feature that is included in the desktop to give you a high level of support. What it does is to segment programs completely and provide them independent security levels, which the user can configure, so that an attack on one component will not affect or exploit other parts of the system,” he explains. ||**||Sun|~||~||~|During last month’s LinuxWorld in Boston, US, attendees were able to preview the latest beta versions of Sun Microsystems StarOffice 8 software and the Sun Java Desktop System (JDS) Release 3. According to the company, StarOffice 8 includes major enhancements in terms of interoperability with Microsoft’s Office software and a better GUI (graphical user interface). Sun JDS Release 3, on the other hand, which will come out in the middle of the year, will address better device support and interoperability functions. Currently, Sun offers JDS Release 2, an enterprise desktop solution based on Solaris 9 (the first version, JDS Release 1, was based on Novell’s SuSE Linux). In Release 2, Sun has decided to bring Solaris 9 to the open source space in an effort to rub some of Linux’s appeal to its own operating system. JDS 2 is based on the GNOME desktop environment and ships with the Mozilla web browser, RealNetworks’ media player, and its own office productivity suite, StarOffice 7, which provides tools for word processing, spreadsheet, presentations, HTML, graphics, and database, among others. Sun also made sure that files are compatible with MS Office for seamless interoperability. In addition, JDS also includes the Evolution Mail Directory and Calendar Client, which are software tools for integrating e-mails, calendaring, meeting scheduling, contact management and task lists in one application. According to Bliss, JDS is driving Linux adoption in the desktop space, especially because of the price. “Since we launched JDS, we have seen a massive reaction from the market, primarily in the healthcare and government sectors,” says Bliss. “This has been largely driven by open and standards-based technology, and a simple pricing structure where you charge per desktop per year for what you use and not what one vendor thinks you should pay. We are 70% cheaper than the competition.” ||**||And IBM?|~||~||~|Until recently, IBM, a vocal Linux advocate, has kept quiet about its open source desktop strategy. But now the company is investing US$100 million over three years to expand its support for the open source technology, particularly its Workplace software portfolio. “IBM is investing a lot in Linux as an operating system. We are investing a lot in terms of technology. We are making a lot of our own technology available to Linux,” says Bashar Kilani, manager of IBM software group for Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan. Part of IBM’s Workplace strategy is the Workplace Client Technology, a competitive offering to Microsoft’s Office suite, which runs only on Windows and Macintosh. The company is positioning it as a hub to deliver a variety of applications to end users, including applications from Microsoft’s Office suite. Through Workplace Client Technology, e-mails, word processing, spreadsheets and database products are installed on the server, and users can have access to these applications on any device, no matter where they access it from, says IBM. IBM’s new strategy will see a number of new marketing programmes aimed at enticing independent software vendors (ISVs) to port their software to the Linux operating system. Called the Chiphopper, the initiative is mainly aimed at helpping IBM expand its Workplace software in the SMB market. The company is already supporting Linux in Workplace, but the company wishes to augment the technology and products available within the range through a new batch of business partners. ||**||

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