Practical Technology

for practical people.

Why there won’t be a Red Hat Consumer Linux Desktop


Last May, Red Hat announced that, with Intel, it would soon be releasing Red Hat Global Desktop, a consumer Linux desktop for emerging markets. But, then one delay followed another. Now, on April 16th 2008, Red Hat has announced that it has no plans to create a traditional desktop product for the consumer market in the foreseeable future.”

What happened?

Officially, in its desktop group blog, Red Hat states “The desktop market suffers from having one dominant vendor, and some people still perceive that today’s Linux desktops simply don’t provide a practical alternative. Of course, a growing number of technically savvy users and companies have discovered that today’s Linux desktop is indeed a practical alternative. Nevertheless, building a sustainable business around the Linux desktop is tough, and history is littered with example efforts that have either failed outright, are stalled or are run as charities.”

Off-the-record, according to sources close to Red Hat and Intel, it’s a different story.

First, Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens originally described RHGD (Red Hat Global Desktop), as being a new kind of desktop. Stevens said that “the traditional desktop metaphor is dead, it’s a dinosaur. We don’t believe that recreating the Windows paradigm does anything to increase the productivity paradigm of any user. The new model has to be about the user, centered on activities and not just based on documents and applications.”

However, RHGD, while based on the ideas of the OLPC (One Laptop per Child), turned into a more traditional desktop project over time. It was turning into a traditional fat-client desktop that would go toe-to-toe with Microsoft Vista and XP.

At the same time, the desktop market was changing. Ironically, it was changing in the direction Stevens had described for RHGD. Instead of more powerful computers, interest suddenly sparked in low-powered, low-priced PC and laptops like the Asus EEE, of which over 1.5-million will be running Xandros Linux, and Everex’s gOS-powered gPC series, which runs a modified Ubuntu that focuses on Web-based activities instead of document and applications. In fact, Everex recently released a PC that’s been customized for MySpace users.

In the meantime, Red Hat, which now had focused on a more traditional desktop found itself stymied by multimedia problems. Red Hat wanted to supply users with legal access to WMF (Windows Media Format) codices. While Microsoft was willing to license these codices to Linux distributors, such as Linspire, Turbolinux and Xandros, Microsoft was only willing to make these deals if the Linux company was willing to sign off on a Microsoft patent agreement. Red Hat was not willing to do this.

Red Hat then moved to plan B. This was to arrange to get Fluendo, the Spanish Linux/Solaris multimedia company, reverse-engineered WMF codices. The RHGD codices are meant to be used as plug-ins for the GStreamer Multimedia Framework. GStreamer, in turn, is used by many Linux multimedia applications such as the Totem video player, Rhythmbox music player, and the Banshee music player.

There was a problem with this approach though. The Fluendo codices would make RHGD more expensive than Red Hat would like. While grappling with this problem, Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik resigned in December for family health reasons. This put the entire RHGD project on the back-burner.

Now, after new Red Hat CEO James M. Whitehurst has been at the helm for just over three months, a strategic decision was made to focus on Red Hat’s main business—the server—and to give its middleware business, JBoss, a kick in the pants. From Red Hat’s executive viewpoint, focusing on a side-issue like a desktop Linux simply wasn’t worth the company’s time.

Leave a Reply