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Linux desktop growing up and eyeing corporate users

By , Network World
October 30, 2006 10:02 AM ET

Network World - If employees at Backcountry.com want a Windows desktop they better have a good excuse, because the standard issue is Linux.

While some might think the backcountry-gear outfitter has been out in the woods a bit too long, the reality is that commercial Linux desktops are starting to show maturity, starting to improve their looks and starting to find a niche behind corporate walls.

“People have to justify Windows to get it, and even then I challenge them a bit,” says Dave Jenkins, the CTO for Backcountry.com. Nearly 70% of the online retailer’s 200 or so desktops are Linux, including multiuser machines stationed in the company’s warehouse. Those on Windows desktops typically need it to support Excel and the macros that run only inside that spreadsheet.

Commercial Linux for the desktop
Behind a push from Novell, Red Hat and others, the commercial Linux desktop is starting to show signs of maturity. Here is a look at some of the desktop versions that are available.

Distribution Current version Price Desktop Office suite Evaluation
Novell 10 $50 GNOME OpenOffice Today's desktop Linux to beat.
Red Hat 4.0 $180 - $2,500 GNOME OpenOffice Not No. 1 in any area, technically, but perhaps longest list of independent software vendors and certified hardware.
Linspire 5.1 $50 KDE GNOME Office, KOffice, OpenOffice Update infrastructure lets user click and run applications from a centralized service.
Linspire 6.06 LTS Free GNOME GNOME Office, OpenOffice Distribution, software updates are free; user pays support only.
Xandros 4.0 $40-$80 KDE OpenOffice Tops for Web application station in mostly-Microsoft shops.
SOURCE: DISTROWATCH.COM
Click to see: Commercial Linux for the desktop

Jenkins’s conclusion is that Linux is starting to make its case as a viable alternative to Windows.

Helping that notion are major vendors, including IBM and Sun who are putting a focus on the desktop, including IBM’s release earlier this year of a full Notes client that runs on Linux desktops.

And while no pragmatist in the Linux community will use the word “replacement,” the confidence level is up given Novell’s recent release of its desktop SUSE Enterprise Linux 10, the impending release next year of Red Hat Enterprise 5.0, and the growing popularity of the easy-to-use Ubuntu distribution and a myriad of other Linux desktop versions from Xandros to LinSpire.

Another driver may well indeed be the broken promises of Microsoft’s Vista operating system, which ships this month after five years of development and will arrive with only a small percentage of its original marquee features.

“Vista has reopened the buying decision,” says Justin Steinman, director of product marketing for Linux and open source solutions at Novell. “Customers are saying if I have to do this, what are my other choices. Our strategy is not to take out Microsoft; our goal is present alternatives to Microsoft.”

And Novell thinks it has a strong alternative in SUSE Enterprise Linux 10.

The desktop has an Office suite built off the Open Office project, and the desktop includes the Firefox browser, Gaim instant messaging client, Beagle desktop search engine, Xen virtualization and the Evolution e-mail and calendaring client that integrates with Microsoft Exchange Server.

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