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Jealousy? Novell, Red Hat, and the Linux Desktop


Recently, both Novell and Red Hat went on record as dismissing the idea that the consumer Linux desktop is going to be taking off anytime soon. It’s not? Has anyone told Asus and Xandros? Everex and gOS? How about Dell and Ubuntu? They’re all doing great with consumer Linux desktops.

Novell actually isn’t taking an extreme position on the consumer Linux desktop. Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian on April 15th in India, according to an InfoWorld report, simply said that the consumer market is taking longer to develop than the business market and that “The market for the desktop for the next three to five years is mainly enterprise-related.”

OK, fair enough. I think the consumer Linux desktop is growing faster than he does, but he’s certainly right when he says that the Linux desktop is going to grow faster still in business. I mean, there must be some enterprises moving to Microsoft Vista, I just don’t happen to know of any.

For businesses that want a desktop upgrade and get ill at the very thought of dealing with Vista’s woes, SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) 10 SP1 deserves serious consideration. That’s especially true since businesses can now buy SLED pre-installed on Lenovo ThinkPads and the HP Mini.

Red Hat, though, in their announcement that they were giving up on their consumer Linux desktop plans went overboard. In their blog post, the Red Hat desktop team declared, “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.”

And this is news how? Linux, not just the desktop, but the now popular server, still suffered from fools that don’t realize it’s a mature, business and home ready operating system. If Red Hat had started out with a similar attitude when the company started that Microsoft and the Unix companies had too strong a hold on servers and that people didn’t understand Linux could work for them, Red Hat would be long dead. If you don’t believe in your product, how can you expect anyone else to?

The Red Hat desktop team then went on, “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.”

Sure, it’s tough. Selling anything new is always tough. Most businesses, whether it’s selling pizzas or operating systems fail. If you can’t deal with it, go get a job flipping burgers.

But, here’s the point Red Hat, there are businesses working with the Linux desktop that have not failed, not stalled and, frankly, I’m not even what you’re talking about when you mention charities. OLPC (One Laptop per Child)? The project is meant to do good, but it’s also meant to pay for its own. The OLPC sells XO laptops, it doesn’t give them away.

In fact, if you follow what’s been happening with the Linux desktop, you’ll see it’s doing great. Asus sold 300-thousand of its Eee PC series running Xandros Linux last year. This year, the Taiwanese company expects to sell 2-million of them. Sounds to me like desktop Linux is doing pretty darn good for them.

Everex hasn’t released numbers for its gOS-powered gPCs, but from all reports this Google-oriented Linux PC is doing quite well. Dell’s been selling some of its PCs with Ubuntu Linux for closing in on a year now. While, Dell won’t give out sales numbers either, as Todd Weiss reports in ComputerWorld, Dell spokesperson Anne Camden said, A [sales] number is not going to validate it as much as our actions to date.” Those actions have been to continue to add new Ubuntu-powered models like the Dell Inspiron 1525 and updating their systems with Ubuntu 7.10 and the ability to play DVDs..

Those are just the big success stories. You also have major retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and Sears now selling pre-installed Linux PCs. And, thanks to the Vista flop, Windows PC sales are actually declining.

Put it all together and what do you get? You get the best time ever for the consumer Linux desktop to gain customers’ attention. So, why is Novell lukewarm and Red Hat downright cool about home Linux?

Part of it is simply their business plans. Novell wants the business Linux server and desktop market. Red Hat is focusing on its servers and JBoss. But, you know what? I think some of this, especially from Red Hat’s tone, is simple, good old-fashioned jealousy.

Consumer Linux is now a success. But, it’s not Red Hat’s success. It’s the success of gOS, a distribution that came out of the blue late last year. It’s the success of Xandros, the oldest desktop Linux distribution but one that has never been that popular. And, last but perhaps most tellingly, it’s the success of Ubuntu.

There was a time when if you said Linux, people immediately thought of Red Hat. Now, except in server circles, if you say Linux chance are your listeners will be thinking of Ubuntu. Oh, and have I mentioned that Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu is targeting servers now? Could Red Hat be getting just a wee-bit jealous of the little people-friendly Linux that could? I think they just might be.


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