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OS middleware, Linux desktop high on HP's agenda

According to HP's Linux leader, middleware and the desktop adoption are the next frontiers for Linux. Find out why HP wants to have a stake in the emerging Linux desktop market.

Desktop sales played a big role in Hewlett-Packard's recent news-making profit gains. In the future, Linux will figure prominently in HP desktops, says Christine Martino, vice president of HP's Open Source and Linux Organization. She's not predicting an overthrow of Windows desktops anytime soon, though.

Linux is striking a positive note in HP's financial life, Martino says. About 30,000 Linux support services subscriptions added $19 million to HP's coffers in fiscal year 2005. Overall, HP has sold 1.4 million Linux servers, and Linux has brought $5.8 billion to HP, according to IDC.

Desktop Linux is one of several up-and-comers in open source that Martino discusses in this interview. She also talks about the implications of HP success for CIOs, the emergence of a strong open source middleware stack, carrier-grade Linux and businesses' move away from "proprietary everything." From HP's view, what are the current and future hot spots in businesses' adoption of open source software?

Christine Martino: Linux is mainstream in the data center today. More and more, Linux is moving upstream in the enterprise, as we're seeing in users' interest in our Itanium-powered HP Integrity Superdome servers.

Middleware and the desktop are the next frontiers, with middleware coming into play strongly today and desktops in the next few years.

What are the primary open source products that HP supports?

Martino: We have looked at the open source components being used by our enterprise customers. They guided us. We do the testing and put the pieces together. So, we've put together open source middleware stacks that contain best-of-breed tested components. HP is supporting an open source stack of middleware building blocks for Linux, Windows and HP-UX.

It's a sizeable stack, which includes MySQL and PHP, as well as JBoss Enterprise Middleware Suite (JEMS). JEMS is an open source software infrastructure stack for creating and deploying business applications and includes the JBoss Application Server, Hibernate, JBoss Portal, JBoss Cache, JBoss Eclipse IDE and Apache Tomcat. On the directory services side, there's Symas CDS and OpenLDAP.

The next step is to tie those stacks to specific horizontal commercial applications, like SAP. Another next step is to take open source middleware stacks into vertical markets like financial and government services and telco. To do this, we'll tie stacks to, say, a specific financial services application and extend its capabilities.

Why is HP investing in Linux desktops, a true underdog today?

Martino: We consider the desktop an important emerging Linux opportunity worldwide. In certain regions and countries, it is much further along than in the U.S. Right now, we work with Mandriva, a popular desktop OS, in France and Brazil.

We are not ignoring this opportunity, even though we take a realistic approach to it. We certify the Novel desktops. but we don't just preload them and then run after customers. I think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we create the next Microsoft from an open source perspective.

A trend that supports our belief in the future of Linux desktops is that customers are moving from proprietary everything to everything being industry-standard.

How is that trend playing itself out in places other than the desktop?

Martino: Businesses are getting very interested in carrier-grade computing and see Linux as a unifying operating system for convergence of data, networking and telecom technologies. We're very involved in carrier-grade Linux, in contributing to that project, and see it as a big driver for convergence. It's a work in progress, of course.

I don't hear much about Linux-related convergence projects.

Martino: We have done work with customers, and most of them -- mostly telecom companies -- don't go public about these projects. Motorola has gone public, to name just one.

In our work in this area, we've helped by adding some required features that were not available in any carrier-grade Linux distribution at the time. Each telco has specialized features that are their differentiators. For Motorola, for instance, we created those features and put changes on the Debian kernel and gave Debian extensions to Motorola.

More on Linux trends:

Linux desktop adoption barriers: Microsoft Office may out-feature OpenOffice, but...

IBM, Novell to deal Linux to niche markets

We submit such features back into open source. We're not interested in creating our own distribution. It's a gap-filling strategy from a functionality perspective. The hope is that over time, all of those changes will be picked up by off-the-shelf distributions, and then we will move onto the next set of changes.

I think [carrier-grade] hardening features will become mainstream in Linux, and that will be the biggest benefit.

What might it mean to IT organizations that HP is making money on Linux-related products and services?

Martino: Most CIOs are conservative in nature. So, seeing that big vendors and their customers are investing in Linux and open source gives CIOs a level of confidence in them, making it easier for CIOs to choose these technologies. Seeing that HP is making money with and investing in Linux is also an important confidence builder.

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