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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Red Hat Inc plans to build out a growing portfolio of enterprise products with a desktop Linux offering targeted at business users.

Raleigh, North Carolina-based Red Hat said it is responding to growing demand from enterprise customers. The company believes users are frustrated with the dominant supplier of desktop operating systems and applications - Microsoft Corp.

Red Hat's desktop offering is expected next year and the company is considering subscription-based pricing.

News of the launch comes after Red Hat launched Advanced Server, Content and Collaboration Management, and Database products for corporates and small and medium sized businesses (SMBs).

Red Hat chairman, chief executive officer and president Matthew Szulik didn't go into feature details but told Computerwire his company's offering could use existing open source desktop technologies. Such products are believed increasingly mature and their use means Red Hat does not need to initiate development work from scratch - a costly and time-consuming process.

"A lot of the components are there for us to pursue a desktop strategy," Szulik said. He listed the Mozilla browser and Nautilus file system as possible elements.

"There is a robust set of infrastructure tools and technologies that will make a desktop credible," Szulik said.

Red Hat believes it can exploit growing corporate frustration with Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft. That company finally introduced unpopular licensing changes this month, which include Software Assurance (SA).

SA is targeted at customers who wish to upgrade older versions of their Windows products during the lifetime of a contract with Microsoft.

Analysts' surveys consistently show a large numbers of Microsoft customers are either unwilling to move to new licensing or are considering alternative products. Customers believe the new licensing will be more expensive than the old system - a charged denied by Microsoft.

Leading alternatives to Microsoft's Office desktop productivity suite include Palo Alto, California-based Sun Microsystems Inc's StarOffice 6.0, Boston, Massachusetts-based Ximian Inc's Desktop and Connector, and Ottawa, Ontario-based Corel Inc's WordPerfect. Corel recently introduced new volume pricing to temp potential defectors.

"There are an awful lot of people looking for an alternative," Szulik said.

Red Hat believes changes in desktop loyalties mirror changes on the server. "The same phenomena on the server is spreading to the desktop," Szulik said.

Linux is encroaching against Windows NT for basic file and print and other server functions. Companies like Redwood, Shores-California-based Oracle Corp are also working to boost scalability for deployment of Linux in more mission-critical environments.

Oracle, for example, backs Red Hat's Advanced Server that was launched in May. Advanced Server is the latest in a line of business-focussed products from Red Hat and is actually designed to steal market share from Unix through features such as kernel enhancements for improved I/O performance and scalability, and Red Hat Cluster Manager for enhanced high-availability fail-over and data integrity.

Also backing Advanced Server are Intel Corp, Dell Computer Corp, IBM and Veritas Software Corp.

Red Hat, though, is not guaranteed success with its desktop venture. Desktop Linux has to-date floundered through lack of applications - a factor forcing companies like the former Caldera International Inc to withdraw Linux desktops.

Red Hat's largest ray of hope comes - ironically - from the fact Sun, too, has recognized the appeal of open source desktop software. Sun recently revealed it is evaluating an open-source messaging client to rival Microsoft's Outlook for use in the open source-based StarOffice 6.0.

Sun, like Red Hat, believes there exists a set of mature open source technologies that now make the Linux desktop a viable alternative to Office.

© ComputerWire

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