Red Hat launches new desktop Linux

Red Hat Inc. on Tuesday unveiled a new version of the Linux operating system software designed for the corporate desktop.

The new software, called the Red Hat Desktop, will be a companion product to Red Hat’s current desktop offering, Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS. Red Hat Desktop will be targeted at corporate users, however, instead of the more technical engineering, software developer, and computer-aided design (CAD) users that had been using Red Hat’s WS software.

And unlike the WS distribution, which is sold on a per-system basis, Red Hat Desktop will be available in packages of 10 or 50 units when it begins shipping, said Mike Ferris, Red Hat’s product marketing manager for Enterprise Linux.

“What we are doing now is extending the Enterprise Linux product family by adding a Red Hat product hat is specifically targeted at the front office,” Ferris said.

The Red Hat Desktop is a follow-up to the company’s March partnership with embedded device software vendor Wind River Systems Inc., Red Hat said. But the new desktop software will use the same versioning scheme as Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux offerings, which means the first version of the product will be numbered 3.

Wind River and Red Hat are also working on an embedded Linux distribution designed for carrier grade devices like routers and switches, called Red Hat Embedded Linux. It is expected to ship in early 2005, according to Red Hat.

Red Hat Desktop will include a selection of client software, including Open Office 1.1, the Evolution mail client, the Mozilla Web browser and the Citrix Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) client and a software management module, the company said.

Software updates for Red Hat Desktop will be provided by either a Red Hat Network Proxy Server or, for customers who want to have a greater degree of control over the management of their software updates, the Red Hat Network Satellite Server. A 10-unit starter pack, including the Red Hat Network Proxy Server software will list for US$2,500. The 50-unit Satellite Server Starter Pack will list for US$13,500, with support for each additional 50 desktops costing US$3,500.

Red Hat Desktop should have some appeal for “transaction-oriented” workers, like call centre operators who are running server-based applications, and the fact that Red Hat is already accepted in the enterprise will help the product gain acceptance, said Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with research firm IDC. But the Raleigh, N.C., company will need more than this to succeed with the product, he said.

“They’re going to need partnerships with every single one of the desktop hardware suppliers,” said Kusnetzky. “If there isn’t a strong story about how Linux comes preinstalled on the desktop hardware of your choice, then Linux will not be as broadly interesting.”

Linux is poised to overtake Apple Computer Corp.’s Mac OS as the number two desktop operating system, Kusnetzky said, but with a paltry three per cent of the desktop market, the open source operating system has a long way to go. IDC expects Linux to grow to around six per cent of the desktop market, when measured by units shipped, by 2006, he said.

The lack of popular desktop applications, like Microsoft Office or Quicken remains an impediment to Linux adoption, but Linux’s advantages in the area of software management, security and licensing costs make it appealing for some users, Kusnetzky said.

“It’s overcoming the initial impediments and becoming more and more attractive to more and more people,” he said.

In March, Hewlett-Packard Co. announced plans to make Red Hat’s Rival, SuSE Linux, its standard desktop distribution. HP currently supports Red Hat Linux with some of its notebook computers, and is planning to support Red Hat’s Linux distribution with some of its desktop systems, but the company had no comment on whether or not it plans to support Red Hat Desktop, an HP spokesperson said.

Red Hat Desktop will be available within two weeks, Ferris said. The company is working with systems vendors now to develop plans to market the software, but no hardware vendors are yet ready to announce support for the software, he said.

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