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Linux desktops: Graphics boost, virtualization add to stature

Open Source Developer Labs' John Cherry explains how Windows Vista delays and Linux desktop advances will raise the profile of the Linux desktop in the coming months.

Whether devotees of Linux or Windows, IT managers see eye to eye on at least one thing -- that virtualization is one of today's hottest technologies for the desktop. John Cherry couldn't agree more. Speaking at LinuxWorld Conference & Expo on Aug. 15, Cherry said that virtualization technology shares the spotlight with accelerated graphics capabilities as the most significant developments to hit Linux desktops. As the Desktop Linux Initiative manager for Open Source Developer Labs, Cherry should know. In an interview at LinuxWorld, he gives a sneak peak on his thoughts about the growing Linux market and its direct impact on the desktop. What significant technology developments have taken place recently on the Linux desktop?

John Cherry: The most significant developments on the Linux desktop in the last four months have to be the maturing of accelerated graphics capabilities and virtualization. Major commercial and open distributions have released these capabilities, and the maturity of these technologies is growing daily.

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Desktop environments that use accelerated graphics are incredibly responsive and 'sexy.' Users say it is difficult to measure the incremental usefulness of desktop environments that leverage accelerated graphics, but they like it. Users enjoy seamless video and whizzy things like rotating desktop polygons.

You will hear much about virtualization at the LinuxWorld Expo. This is the hot topic in the community right now. The maturity of Xen has been challenged, but Xen-based virtualization is being used successfully in a variety of usage models. With the focus the community is giving to virtualization, the maturity will continue to grow in open projects such as Xen as well as commercial products such as VMware.

How do you think the releases of Ubuntu 6.06 LTS and SLED 10.0 will affect Linux desktop adoption?

Cherry: Several commercial and noncommercial distributions have announced significant desktop releases in the last few months. While new desktop product announcements are necessary to enable penetration into desktop markets, real market penetration will be enabled when major PC vendors preload Linux on supported, visible product lines. These preloaded Linux product offerings must be turnkey and include all the goodies that desktop users need for multimedia, Web access and basic office capabilities.

Last week, a major laptop vendor announced a preloaded Linux product line, which may be the catalyst to get the turnkey desktop market moving.

What successes have you seen in Linux server growth?

Cherry: The server market has been the backbone of Linux-based systems. Large and small companies alike have been very successful deploying [mail servers, file servers, database servers and Web servers] with all the distributions you mentioned earlier. The Linux server market has enjoyed double-digit percentage growth for 15 straight quarters -- and counting. Research firms are consistently releasing numbers that illustrate the growth of the Linux server market, but with many noncommercial Linux distributions to choose from, it is difficult to accurately measure the real market growth.

For many business users, Linux-based systems have been an option for quite some time. In the enterprise, there are systems admins that will set up and manage these systems. The consumer market, however, is quite different.

I generally don't like to speculate on how Linux distributions will compete with Windows products. Much depends on how these desktop systems will be used. Let me just say that with the advances in Linux desktop capabilities and with the delays and migration issues associated with Vista, I believe that both enterprises and some consumers will be exploring all of their options in the months to come.

Have you seen any recent developments that would ease applications porting and integration to Linux by ISVs?

Cherry: The focus of the Desktop Linux Community has been to make it easier for ISVs to port applications to the Linux environments. The cross-desktop issues are being addressed with projects such as the Portland Project.

Portland Project tools are in the second beta right now, and the 1.0 versions of the tools are slated to be released in September. A number of high-profile applications are using the beta versions of the Portland Project tools now. There is a chance that you may have already used one or more of these applications without knowing it.

Cross-distro issues are being addressed by the Linux Standard Base [LSB]. The goal of the LSB is to develop and promote a set of standards that will increase compatibility among Linux distributions and enable software applications to run on any compliant system. In addition, the LSB will help coordinate efforts to recruit software vendors to port and write products for Linux. All of the major Linux distributions have committed to LSB certification. The desktop LSB intends to provide certification for applications. LSB-certified applications should run on LSB-certified distributions.

What developments do you see on the horizon for the Linux desktop?

Cherry: Many desktop users are hooked on applications that are not available on Linux desktops yet. However, for users who need Web access, email clients, office suites and hundreds of other open source applications, your time is here. The Web/mail/basic-office user is sometimes called a 'knowledge worker.' This market segment continues to see terrific growth in all geographies.

Emerging markets, such as BRICK [Brazil, Russia, India, China, Korea] are expanding rapidly in government offices, educational environments and in call centers.

As Linux-based systems work their way into the enterprise and consumer markets, we can expect continued advancements in printer support, wireless support, power management, multimedia and virtualization. Also, you can expect to see much wider adoption of the Open Document Format [ODF]. Recent decisions regarding ODF have come from Malaysia, Spain and Germany.

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