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Linux on the Desktop--Wide Deployment Soon?

High Finance Meets The Penguin

  • April 28, 2005
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

Is Linux about to "make it big" on a lot more desktops worldwide? Executives from Novell and IBM expressed diametrically opposing opinions on this question, in a panel discussion at last week's "Linux on Wall Street" conference that also touched on the server and IP (intellectual property) sides of Linux.

Novell is now running pilots of desktop Linux in countries worldwide with "great acceptance," contended Carl Drisko, Novell's director of Linux and Open Source, speaking to an audience of IT buyers in the financial services industry.

Drisko estimated that three or four different Novell customers are each about to deploy Linux on the desktop across 250,000 seats or more.

"Linux on the desktop has matured," he told the group. "OpenOffice 2 is even better."

The Novell exec pointed to especially strong demand for Linux in school districts, other government agencies, and call center applications, both in Europe and on other continents.

"We're in a great spot with Mono right now," Drisko said.

In stark contrast, Doug Heintzman, IBM's director of SWG Technical Strategy, said he is less optimistic about the fate of desktop Linux, "largely because it has been ´┐Żunder-innovated.'"

"There are barriers," said Heintzman, who described the large installed base of Microsoft Windows desktop users--and the need to exchange documents with them--as the biggest challenge.

Heintzman said that file format incompatibilities linger between Linux environments and Windows applications like Word and PowerPoint.

But Sam Hiser, principal at Hiser & Adelstein, tipped the weight of opinion more in Drisko's direction.

"(Linux) desktop software is completely ready to be adopted," said Hiser, whose company specializes in support, training and consulting "to make the Linux desktop work."

"(Desktop Linux) will evolve (further) as we move forward (to greater overall deployment) of Linux and open source," Hiser said.

Still, many people in the Linux community are focusing on "heavy computing," and to some of them, "the desktop is really an afterthought," he acknowledged.

Yet Novell and Red Hat are both already on the market with desktop Linux products, Hiser pointed out.

"IBM will come out with a Workplace solution," he said. Sun's product has been delayed, but it is still planned, too.

Meanwhile, the idea of widespread desktop Linux deployment has already gained traction among companies concerned about Windows-related maintenance costs and systems downtime problems.

"One fairly significant telco already sees Windows as a single point of failure," according to Hiser. If a Windows server goes down, "you may not see your desktops for hours."

Pete Harris, president of Lighthouse Partners, moderated the freewheeling panel session, which also covered issues ranging from open source server applications to how to reduce IP disputes.

During Novell's time at the microphone, Drisko described how Novell decide to adopt open source JBoss instead of the application server obtained through its acquisition of SilverStream.

In an announcement issued in March, Novell unveiled its intentions to be the first major partner to contribute to the JBoss Portal, as well as to migrate the SOA layer and identity management suite -- which were built in SilverStream -- to the JBoss Enterprise Middleware System Project (JEMS).

"Our position is that we can add more value (through open source)," Drisko told the group.

Novell is including both Jboss and the MySQL database as part of SuSE Linux operating systems, he said.

Drisko added that he expects to see the inclusion of server-based ERP and CRM applications in the near future.

For its part, IBM has also "consumed components," Heintzman admitted. On the other hand, Big Blue has made code donations to open source projects ranging from Apache to Eclipse.

IBM holds a total of about 34,000 patents, Heintzman observed. But one way to cut down on IP lawsuits--such as the one levied by SCO against IBM--is to make patents more difficult to obtain, he suggested.

Patents should only be granted for technology that shows real "innovation," Heintzman said.

Karen Copenhaver, EVP and general counsel for Black Duck Software, presented a different solution to IP sorts of problems.

In Copenhaver's opinion, the Linux community needs to "limit the kinds of licenses" granted, so as to reduce confusion.among users and other vendors.

"There are so many different kinds of licenses, and it would take so much time to learn about them all," the attorney told the audience in New York City.

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