Vendors are slated to debut enhanced Linux distributions, graphical desktops and new applications at LinuxWorld in New York this week and at the first ever Linux Desktop Summit scheduled for Feb. 20 - 21 in San Diego, as part of a blitz aimed at boosting Linux's desktop market share.
The forthcoming offerings will feature more corporate-oriented GUIs, tools to enable easier installations and, most significantly, code that enhances the interoperability of the Linux desktop with Microsoft's Office, Windows and servers, as well as other popular Windows applications. The desktop push comes after Linux garnered only 1 percent to 2 percent of the desktop operating-system market in 2001, according to IDC.
Some solution providers, however, predict Linux will make more desktop inroads in 2003.
"Red Hat, Lycoris, SuSE and several other [vendors] have made a go at the desktop, and I think a lot more effort will spring out of the upcoming Linux Desktop Summit," said Mark Robinson, CFO of Auto Rain Data Systems, a SCO-authorized partner in Spokane, Wash. "I have seen excellent products from both Lindows and Xandros. They are top on my list, and I am running them both at customer sites and in-house. %85 Lindows is great for the person that wants applications that are able to be downloaded over the Internet and is excellent for those that aren't savvy in Microsoft. Xandros is for those that are savvy in Microsoft and have programs they've already learned and aren't willing to give up."
The success of the Linux desktop offerings,at least initially,depends heavily on their interoperability with Microsoft's desktop, server and Windows applications, one analyst said.
Red Hat's forthcoming Red Hat Linux 8.1 desktop update, code-named Phoebe and due to ship in April, will offer an enhanced BlueCurve interface and improved font rendering. Red Hat aims to offer an enhanced desktop later this year that incorporates an e-mail client that can interface with leading e-mail servers, company executives said. "We're missing support for e-mail serving. There is a lot of [Microsoft] Exchange and [Lotus] Notes out there," said Mark de Visser, chief marketing officer for Red Hat.
Xandros plans to preview at LinuxWorld version 2.0 of its namesake Linux desktop that will support more Windows applications, including Office XP, said Rick Berenstein, vice chairman of the Ottawa-based company. He said Xandros is piloting its desktop at two corporations, one of which,a hotel chain,has signed a deal for many thousands of Linux desktops. Xandros bought Corel's Linux division and distribution two years ago and built upon that a more robust corporate distribution called Xandros Desktop 1.0. It shipped in October of 2002 and incorporates CodeWeavers' CrossOver Office and Plugin. CrossOver Office allows Linux users to run Office 95/97/2000, Lotus Notes and Quicken and is being enhanced to provide support for Office XP and Microsoft Access.
Linux vendor Ximian will preview at LinuxWorld this week an upgraded version of its desktop GUI that will be based on the GNOME 2.0 platform and will offer more ease-of-use features, a more "elegant" user interface
and enhanced compatibility with Windows environments, said Jon Perr, a marketing executive at the Boston-based company. The desktop GUI, which runs on top of all leading Linux distributions, currently supports leading Microsoft file formats and e-mail standards. Moreover, Ximian Connector for Exchange enables Linux PCs to be "good citizens" in a Microsoft Exchange environment, Perr said.
SuSE, Lycoris, MandrakeSoft and other vendors have also tossed their hats into the corporate Linux desktop software market.
Meanwhile, Lindows debuted Lindows 3.0, a new Linux desktop aimed primarily at consumers. Initially, Lindows was intended to run Windows applications natively but that support was pulled quietly in late 2001. Lindows 3.0 offers support for Microsoft file formats, however.