Eazel swims for the desktop

Eazel Inc. has decided to go after the desktop, Microsoft Corp.’s stronghold.

Version 1.0 of Nautilus arrives late but with much fanfare for the Mountain View, Calif.-based Eazel folks. The software was due to be launched in September last year. The company will use the desktop interface as a delivery point for numerous Web-based services and hopes its clean look can attract users familiar with the Unix and Linux operating systems. While open source software thrives on the server, its place on the desktop, particularly in consumer markets, has suffered. Eazel hopes to change this trend by launching this platform, which has all of the features associated with Windows operating systems (OS) and is developed by former Macintosh employees.

Analysts across the board say that Eazel has a tough road ahead due to a severe lack of demand by consumers for this type of initiative.

“The problem is that they are focusing on a market that is not huge,” said Al Gillen, research manager of systems software at International Data Corp (IDC). “The volumes are not to be anything like they are on the Windows desktop.”

Even with these obvious challenges, industry pundits claim Eazel’s strong development team and solid software could lead the company beyond its current desktop focus and toward the ever-emerging world of PDAs, Web-enabled cell phones and other smart devices.

“The services they plan to offer in the future suggest a bigger vision than they are talking about today,” said Dan Kusnetzky, vice-president of operating environments research for IDC.

While Linux accounted for just 1.6 per cent of the worldwide desktop market in 2000 as of IDC’s last count, the open-source OS has gained ground as an embedded platform in many devices. Kusnetzky feels the OS comes with many of the software tools handy for keeping wireless devices connected to the outside world.

Eazel’s Linux- and Unix-compatible software brings many of the communications capabilities and distributed management that Kusnetzky sees as keys for a device-driven world. Eazel’s impressive user interface would seem to give it a natural edge over other Linux distributions and possibly secure its place in emerging markets.

“Eazel is focused on that future market more than today’s desktop market,” Kusnetzky said.

Eazel signed a deal with Dell Computer Corp. last year to have its software bundled on every Linux desktop sold by Dell and to have links to Eazel’s set of services. In addition, Sun Microsystems Inc. will bundle Nautilus with machines running its Solaris OS, and leading Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. has agreed to put Nautilus on its distribution.

These are the kinds of deals that could have Nautilus end up as “the user interface of choice” on handhelds and other wireless-enabled hardware, Kusnetzky said.

In this first version of Nautilus, users will find several free services such as on-line storage and software update services. In addition, users can click on any piece of text in a word processor or other application and automatically search for that word on the Google search engine or find a definition. In the future, the company will add automatic translation service as well, according to Tom Goguen, director of product management at Eazel.

Eazel gives users one-click-shopping in an extensive software catalogue – a tool useful for open-source users trying to keep their desktop up to date. In addition, the company added controls for media files which put them in easy to find locations. Unlike many platforms, Eazel allows a user to open files whether they are media programs, text files or others directly, without needing to start up specific applications designed for these files. This can save the user time and effort when loading applications.

With Nautilus, Eazel has also addressed many of the privacy concerns users face. The software will soon come with an option where users can “find out what Eazel knows” about them. Eazel will show its users the types of information it has collected about the users’ tendencies.

As the year rolls on, Eazel will launch more services in an effort to generate revenue from its flagship software.

The company would not comment on how many downloads or installations it expects from this original Nautilus launch.

“We are all kind of sitting here and wondering,” Goguen said.

– IDG News Service