Red Hat Enters Microsoft's Desktop Stronghold

by Hinesh Jethwani    May 05, 2004

Linux’s answer to a user-friendly, feature rich, multi-app desktop Operating System, may have arrived well ahead of market predictions. Red Hat Desktop, the newest member of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux family, was formally launched yesterday.

However, the release, according to industry watchers, is premature, as Linux is still in the process of roping in leading application software vendors to ensure maximum compliance with its systems. On the flip side, the move is expected to deliver a much-needed push to application developers refusing to look outside the Windows domain. Desktop applications today, have become virtual industry standards of sorts, and Linux is looking at the vendor community to extend complete support for its systems. Linux’s success on the desktop front relies primarily on supported apps, which are dictated by the early entrant Microsoft.

Speaking to CXOtoday, Javed Tapia, Director-India, Red Hat, said, “The Red Hat Desktop is a highly secure, easy-to-manage, cost-effective productivity solution for enterprise desktop users. While primarily focused on the enterprise and commercial markets, the features and stability of Red Hat Desktop also make it attractive for use in small and medium business environments.”

With desktop heavyweight Microsoft calling the shots in a virtually monopolistic market, what kind of a market share is the new Linux Desktop aiming for? Tapia explained, “Our estimates suggest that, in India, out of the total desktops shipped annually, over 2,00,000 desktops run on the Linux operating system. The launch of Red Hat Desktop will definitely add to the momentum of Linux on Desktop. This year we are aiming for a 5% market share.”

The launch closely follows a March release, in which Red Hat had formally announced its partnership with Wind River to jointly pursue the device market, with a standard open source platform.

Giving an insight into what the desktop will look like, Tapia said, “The launch of the Red Hat Desktop underlines our commitment to the client environment. We have ensured that the desktop provides a complete user experience with E-mail, Web Browsing, Instant Messaging, Office suite, Imaging and Multimedia PLUS installation support and a year of upgrades and updates.”

With the desktop, Red Hat plans to address the growing demand for PCs in India. “In India, PC manufacturers have already started offering the Linux OS with their products. This has fueled the demand for PCs and laptops, as prices have plummeted. In fact India is a step ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to adoption of Linux on the desktop. Governments, corporates and even the education segment have already started using Linux on the desktop,” Tapia added.

LVM - one of Germany’s largest insurance companies - is closely eyeing the desktop for purchase, as it is a heavy user of Linux at the desktop level, with more than 8,400 previously in-house developed Linux desktops deployed in their organization already. “We are considering the Red Hat Desktop solution because of the open source merits of security, manageability and cost-effectiveness,” said Matthias Strelow, technical team leader at LVM.

The desktop will be made available in configurations, which include either Red Hat Network Proxy or Satellite Servers. A Proxy or Satellite Server deployment enables several clients to be deployed and managed simultaneously.

Future enhancements to Red Hat’s desktop strategy will focus on productivity and interoperability with the support of key industry partners. Partners such as VMWare, Real, Macromedia, Adobe and Citrix are working to certify applications to enable cross-functionality with other technologies.

In parallel, Red Hat will continue work with Wind River to address thin client computing and the device marketplace. By building thin clients and devices based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, customers will have access to flexible open source technology for a broader range of solutions, from single-purpose call center clients to handhelds. For the first time, developers will be able to standardize device software development across the enterprise.

According to Matthew Szulik, Red Hat chairman and CEO, the challenge Linux continues to face is on the desktop and with the file format issues of compatibility and conversion with Microsoft’s Windows. In the past, the desktop was never even part of a conversation when organizations were considering a move to Linux, whereas now it comes up in every discussion.

For users looking outside the Windows domain, the Red Hat Desktop may be a fresh lease of life, as Szulik rightly pointed out, that Linux desktops are aimed primarily at a section of the user community that doesn’t want to be ’extorted by Microsoft’.

Microsoft currently has around 90 percent share of the client OS market with Windows, but this is expected to fall to 58 percent by 2007, as new devices increasingly appear, according to Avneesh Saxena, vice-president for Asia-Pacific computing systems research at IDC.

By 2007, Windows on PCs will account for 58 percent of the client operating system market, with the Symbian OS for communication devices taking 17 percent, according to IDC figures.

Tags: Red Hat