Practical Technology

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Red Hat and the Linux Desktop 2008

Boston, Mass. — Red Hat has a desktop Linux plan. It’s just not the same desktop Linux plans that everyone else has. As Jim Whitehurst told me in an informal gathering of Red Hat executives and press, “There are companies that sell hundreds of products for millions of dollars and there are companies that sell millions of products for hundreds of dollars. Guess which kind of company Red Hat is?”

Does that mean that Red Hat doesn’t plan to bring out a desktop Linux? No, it doesn’t meant that at all. It does mean that Red Hat is not going to compete with Ubuntu on Dell; Xandros on Asus; or gOS on Everex. Red Hat simply doesn’t see a role for itself in consumer desktop Linux. As Paul Cormier, Red Hat’s executive VP , noted at the same get together, if Joe User wants a home desktop Linux, there’s always Fedora, Red Hat’s popular community Linux distribution..

What Red Hat is working on is continuing to make RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) business desktop friendly. Whitehurst said many business customers want the Linux desktop. They don’t want to move their desktops lock, stock, and barrel to RHEL, or any other Linux desktop. What Fortune 500 companies do want though is to start moving up to 25% of their desktops to Linux.

Why? Because they want the benefits of Linux. Besides the usual advantages of improved TCO (total cost of ownership) and improved security, Red Hat’s corporate customers want a Linux desktop that can be carried as a virtual machine on a USB key and can be be managed by Red Hat’s management tools. Is this for someone who wants a Windows XP Home replacement? No. It’s not. It is, however, something that can catch the attention of CIOs who want a Windows XP Pro replacement.

Again, though, this is not Red Hat’s main focus. Red Hat wants to sell you an annual subscription license for an entire ecosystem of open-source based server and business applications. If a RHEL desktop can help customers who want the rest of the package that’s great. But, for Red Hat to place its desktop over the server is putting the cart before the horse.

Don’t think for a moment that Red Hat isn’t working on desktop Linux technologies. In a Red Hat Summit panel, Red Hat’s Jonathan Blandford, GNOME guru and Red Hat Labs engineer, got down and dirty with what Red Hat is doing to clean and speed up the desktop Linux boot experience with Plymouth; work on better audio performance in PulseAudio, and dramatically improving dual-monitor support.

You won’t see these features listed in a consumer Red Hat Linux desktop. You will, if you pay close attention, see these features incorporated into Fedora as well as the ‘brand name’ Linux desktops such as Ubuntu and openSUSE. Red Hat’s main role in the Linux desktop will be in improving the over all desktop experience, not selling a standalone Linux desktop.