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Red Hat eases into desktop Linux

Red Hat Desktop may not challenge Windows for desktop dominance, but it will find a home in certain niche installations, industry analysts said.

Red Hat Inc. took a calculated leap into the enterprise desktop Linux race today with a set of offerings for smaller installations where users need only basic functionality.

Red Hat Desktop is definitely the start of something bigger for the Raleigh, N.C., Linux distributor, whose CEO Matthew J. Szulik announced that partnerships with VMWare, Real, Macromedia, Adobe and Citrix will enhance the productivity and interoperability of future versions.

"Red Hat gets it," said Al Gillen, system software research director for International Data Corp. (IDC), of Framingham, Mass. "It has decided to target a niche market that's not heavily dependent on Windows clients."

Windows reigns on the desktop with more than 90% of the desktop market, according to IDC. But the results of a recent Forrester Research Inc. survey of 140 North American enterprises on their use of open source indicate that 25% would evaluate a Linux desktop solution this year. While 55% reported no plans to look at Linux on the desktop, 19% said they had some already in house.

Gillen said enterprises that are heavily invested in Windows are not likely to make a wholesale leap to Linux, despite compelling cost and security arguments.

"[Enterprises] have an investment in applications, too," Gillen said. "Replacing those may be difficult, time consuming and expensive. There's a return on investment story they have to think about."

Red Hat Desktop, meanwhile, comes to market ahead of a promised desktop from Novell Inc./SuSE Linux AG. Red Hat Desktop includes productivity applications like the office suite, Mozilla Web browser, Evolution e-mail client, GAIM instant messenger and more.

Red Hat offers two management configurations: Red Hat Network Proxy and Satellite servers. Red Hat Desktop supports Intel x86, AMD64 and Intel EM64T platforms.

Red Hat is pricing the Proxy configuration at $2,500, and it includes 10 Red Hat Desktop and management licenses, a Red Hat Network Proxy Server running Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS Premium and one year of help desk support.

The Satellite configuration is $13,500 and includes 50 Red Hat Desktop and management modules licenses, a Red Hat Network Satellite Server running Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS Premium and a year of help desk support.

"The Linux desktop is happening now, and the reasons tend to be specific for companies doing so as an alternative in certain niches," said Forrester vice president and research director Ted Schadler. "My advice, however, is to stick with Windows. Support is there and the quality of XP and Office is high. You may save money going with Linux, but the costs of the hassle, support and interoperability issues you may run into could end up costing you 10 times more."

With Windows' current desktop prevalence, end users are comfortable with Microsoft despite its security woes and expensive licensing, Gillen said.

"When I talk to IT managers, they think Linux is a good client option, but they're not anxious to go to their users and essentially be the advocate for a Linux solution," Gillen said. "They're concerned about the push-back they'll get from users. Suddenly, their Palms may not synch up or their content may not be accessible any more."

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