China embraces Linux desktop

China embraces Linux desktop

Sun Microsystems Inc. landed the largest Linux desktop deal in history with an agreement announced this week involving a consortium of technology providers in China.

But while Sun’s China deal will raise the visibility of desktop Linux internationally, it isn’t likely to speed U.S. adoption, said analysts and even users who have already made the switch.

“This is a trend, not a fad,” said Scott Testa, chief operating officer at Mindbridge Inc., a Philadelphia-based intranet development company that has implemented a Linux desktop strategy. Although he’s not expecting accelerated adoption in the U.S., “at the end of the day, there are working environments where Linux on the desktop makes a lot of sense,” Testa said.

The deal calls for Sun to provide China Standard Software Co. Ltd. with as many as one million seats per year of its Java Desktop System. China Standard Software is a consortium of Chinese technology companies that executes government initiatives.

Most large Linux client installations in the U.S., such as Cleveland-based paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams Co.’s deployment of nearly 10,000 Linux-based IBM Corp. PCs, have been for point-of-sale or operational support. They may compete with Microsoft Corp. offerings but aren’t knowledge-worker desktops. Major Linux desktop announcements in the U.S. remain rare.

The company that supplied the Linux client systems to Sherwin Williams, Turbolinux Inc., has since shifted its attention to the Asia-Pacific region, where demand for Linux clients is strong. Though the company no longer markets its products here, it does maintain a U.S. presence.

Michael Jennings, director of business alliances and operations at Japan-based Turbolinux, said his company won the Sherwin-Williams deal in part by undercutting competitors in price. “It wasn’t that great of a deal for us, other than getting our product out there,” he said.

Linux desktop vendors, such as Xandros Inc. in New York, say U.S. businesses are interested and tell of hush-hush Linux desktop pilots in some very large companies that aren’t ready to talk about their plans. “They are taking their time, which is fine,” said Rick Bernstein, chairman of Xandros.

But it’s a different story overseas. There is a worldwide, government-led push toward open-source systems. The European Union, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries are investigating open-source or have already adopted policies that embrace it.

Sun is moving aggressively internationally with what may be the most well-rounded Microsoft alternative for the desktop. Aside from its Java Desktop System, which includes the StarOffice productivity suite, Sun markets StarOffice separately and bundles it with its Sun Ray thin client. According to Sun, StarOffice files are compatible with Microsoft Office files.

But despite the deal announced this week, China won’t necessarily be an easy market for Sun.

Wuxi, China-based Evermore Software Co. Ltd., for example, is selling a Java-based cross-platform office productivity product, EIOffice, to compete with Microsoft Office, StarOffice and others in China. Evermore President Gus Tsao claims the product is a true, integrated office suite that offers a single file format and one user interface for documents, spreadsheets and graphical applications. Evermore plans to launch the product in the U.S. in February at the Demo2004 conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.In China, Evermore has hundreds of thousands of users, but the majority are using pirated copies. “In China, it’s hard to sell software, because piracy is rampant everywhere,” Tsao said. But the government, which is providing more than half of Evermore’s backing, is beginning to crack down on piracy.