CIOs seek desktop simplicity

United India Insurance Co. (UIIC) has contracted for Sun Microsystems Inc. to equip 10,000 users at the Indian insurance provider with the StarOffice 7 desktop applications suite.

In February, Sun announced the sale of its productivity suite for users at 1,126 offices across India. It’s Sun’s largest StarOffice contract to date. Sun sees its desktop strategy, which includes its SunRay thin client, as a means to a very specific end: more server sales. But the company expects most of its initial desktop business to come from overseas.

“(Cost) sensitivity dictates that the majority of market opportunities will be in geographies outside of North America,” said Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice-president of software at Sun.

Scott Handy, vice-president in charge of desktops at IBM Corp., said U.S. businesses’ interest in Linux desktops is limited. That’s partly because software licensing fees represent only 20 per cent of the total cost of ownership of desktops, he said, which IBM estimates to be between US$5,000 and $7,000 per PC per year.

But Handy predicted a gradual movement to Web-based applications deployed through portals. “We are multiple years into a decade-long shift” to using Internet-based technology as a more cost-effective way to deploy an application, he said, adding that a shift to server-based delivery of applications can cut the cost of a desktop in half.

Sun expects the shift to be toward simplicity. Schwartz cited devices such as Java-enabled phones as an example and maintained that CIOs want the same kind of simplicity on their desktops. “They want to reduce expenses; they want to manage it centrally,” he said.

Sun has clearly emerged as a Linux desktop leader in a relatively short time. But Novell Inc. has finalized its purchase of Linux vendor SUSE Linux AG, a move that follows Novell’s August acquisition of Ximian Inc., which makes a Linux desktop environment. Charlie Ungashick, director of product management and marketing for Novell’s Ximian Services group, said the company will focus on technical workstation users and inventory and point-of-sale workers — not the general office worker.

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