13 May 2003 Desk-top Linux will take off during 2004 as device makers start to supply Linux device drivers as standard and office suites such as OpenOffice finally offer full compatibility with Microsoft Office.
That is the opinion of Red Hat vice president of marketing Mark de Visser. The company plans to take advantage of organisations’ desire to break free from Microsoft’s high licensing costs by offering a ‘hardened’ corporate desk-top distribution, with a variety of central management features that organisations will pay for by subscription.
“We feel confident that in the next six months, we can create a good corporate desktop product,” said de Visser. The idea is to tailor the distribution to the needs of the enterprise, while the central management software will not be open source.
Red Hat divides the desktop Linux market into corporate and consumer sectors. In the consumer sector, profit margins will always be thin because users can ultimately just download the latest version of their preferred distribution over the Internet.
But in the corporate desktop Linux sector, the company foresees demand booming when a number of barriers are overcome, such as the difficulty of running Microsoft Office documents on a Linux-based office applications suite.
“Desktop Linux in the corporate has been held back by content,” said de Visser. At the moment, OpenOffice can open Microsoft PowerPoint slides, for example, 99 out of 100 times. Within six months, OpenOffice should be 100% compatible, he claimed.
Another weakness is the lack of client software that can plug into Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino and offer all the groupware functions. However, open source software vendor Ximian is closing in on this sector of the market with its Evolution software.
When these two issues are resolved, believes de Visser, the pendulum will swing the other way, with major organisations preferring the ease of management of desktop Linux over Microsoft operating systems. For example, organisations will not need to worry about licensing and can upgrade at their leisure.
The central management tools will enable systems administrators to be able to roll out such upgrades automatically, cutting out the need to purchase separate software distribution tools from vendors such as Novadigm, Marimba and IBM Tivoli.