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Red Hat close mouthed about open desktop service

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Summit Red Hat, it seems, is all about open source and closed answers.

A pair of cagey executives today kicked off the company's user conference here with plenty of religious rhetoric but precious few details on product plans. The Red Hat brass – CEO Matt Szulik and CTO Brian Stevens – proved most vague around the questions of a proper desktop OS, increasing pressure from Ubuntu and the Microsoft, Novell, Dell love-in. But, when not avoiding questions, Szulik and Stevens were generous with their paradigm shifts and world-changing ambitions.

"You have chosen to create a place in history and not sit back and watch," Szulik said, feeling the love.

Later, he added, "There is something you have that nobody can buy, and that is your committed heart and soul . . . to this movement."

These comments mostly pertained to Szulik's calls for action around the open document format, open source voting machines and open source software running on cheap computers aimed at the third world. All the stuff of which dreams are made.

Those of you hoping for similar enthusiasm around the Linux desktop will be disappointed.

The Red Hat executives did make mention of some sort of desktop as a service model that will be somehow tied to Fedora 8.

"The most interesting new applications today aren't traditional desktop apps at all," Stevens said. "They really are online services."

Red Hat's CTO pointed to things such as Salesforce.com, YouTube, Flickr and the rest of the usual online suspects.

By the sounds of it, Red Hat hopes to craft something akin to its Exchange service for shipping middleware around desktop software. Virtualization will apparently be a large part of this push as well, according to Stevens. So, we're guessing Red Hat might eye packaged virtual machines with specific software bundles that can be pulled down over the network.

But, seriously, who knows?

Stevens was more specific on another desktop area, saying that Red Hat plans to ship paravirtualized storage and networking drivers this year that will allow Windows to run at near native speeds on top of Red Hat Linux. Such work will build on a newly announced partnership with Intel around so-called virtual appliances.

Red Hat's Appliance OS will tap into Intel's hard-wired management technology called vPro to make it easier for customers to fire up specialized functions on their desktop. Essentially, Red Hat will tweak an open source hypervisor - probably Xen - and have that included as standard with vPro systems, removing the need for Intel's proprietary hypervisor.

"Virtual Appliances can be used to enable functions such as network security, provisioning, monitoring and asset management, regardless of the state of the desktop OS," Red Hat said in a statement. "In collaboration with Intel, Red Hat plans to develop, productize and support the necessary software components, including the hypervisor, the Service OS and Software Development Kit (SDK)."

In short, customers could start a specific application in an isolated partition on their desktop that would handle basic systems management tasks. vPro, for example, can give users access to a near dead machine without requiring a full boot of the OS. So, customers might be able to fiddle with security tools and other management bits and bobs made by Red Hat even when they're on a Windows box.

"I can see the day when Linux and open source software will be used to make Windows secure," Stevens said.

A beta version of this appliance software should ship this year with a general release scheduled for 2008.

On the data center front, Red Hat and IBM vowed to provide broader support around their program that allows Linux to run on IBM's mainframes. That's about all we could get out of the companies' shared statement that included this gem of a sentence: "New and existing IBM mainframe customers seeking to expand their use of Red Hat Enterprise Linux on the mainframe will enjoy enhanced offerings through the program's product development, support and joint solution offerings."

Enhanced offerings through offerings. Keeping the dream alive.

Later, a Red Hat executive told us that the partnership simply amounts to IBM sending mainframes and mainframe engineers to work onsite at Red Hat. This will help both companies pick software features that could help customers and aid with testing.

We'll close with Red Hat's continued excitement around the vague desktop as a service.

"We have made a decision not to try and replicate the existing paradigm" Szulik said, adding that he's "really excited" about online applications.

And so are we. ®

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