Enterprise Unix Roundup: Linux Desktop Redux

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted May 12, 2006


Main     In Other News
Will Novell's SUSE Linux Desktop 10.1 bring the Linux desktop to the mainstream? SGI goes Chapter 11; FreeBSD 6.1 goes gold; and Sun gets a new CTO.

Amy Newman
Brian Proffitt

We'll admit to being cynical about the Linux desktop. We'll chalk it up to being tired of every year being described as The Year of the Desktop, with limited follow-through from both the ISV and user communities.

So when we saw that SUSE 10.1 went gold earlier this week, our first reaction was, "Isn't that old news?" followed by, "Oh, right — the desktop."

The release is actually a loooong-awaited addition to the SUSE product line. It follows three release candidates and a whole slew of beta releases.

The new version, which uses the 2.6.16 Linux Kernel, focuses on virtualization and package-management features. It also includes an array of nifty tools and features, including the Xen hypervisor, which has been part of the distribution since the SUSE Linux Professional 9.3 release. It also contains libzypp, a package-manager-resolver library that integrates Novell's YAST (Yet Another Setup Tool) package manager and Ximian's libredcarpet. Xgl and its associated Compiz compositing manager are also present, as is AppArmor, in the distribution.

Novell has become the market-share laggard in what has essentially become a two-horse race for Linux penetration in the enterprise. But with corporate Linux desktop use ranging from .24 percent to as high as 5 percent, depending on whom you ask (and if you ask us, we'd say 4 percent) there's ample room for a market leader to emerge.

From a more general perspective, we've noticed that the desktop market is slowly showing signs of maturity and an infrastructure appears to be settling into place. Interest from governments and educational institutions looks to be increasing.

Perhaps most important of all in the big picture, a few weeks ago, standardization was a rally cry at the Linux Desktop Summit, where the Free Standards Group presented the newly ratified Linux Standard Base 3.1.

This was the first LSB to specifically address the desktop. Essentially, this standard will mean LSB 3.1-complaint versions of Linux must have the same structure at the library level (whether GTK or Qt), regardless of which desktop environment that distribution happens to focus on. Developers who write a KDE app for a GNOME-centric distro like Ubuntu, must ensure the app will run just as well as it would on a KDE-centric distribution.

We won't argue against standardization (though we will argue that this was a case of substance over form, as most of the distros and ISVs were already writing to both KDE and GNOME). We will, however, argue that desktop productivity applications will ultimately make or break the Linux desktop.

Like in the server arena, the majority of home users and enterprises will make their deployment decisions based not on the operating system itself, but on the applications that run on the operating system can do. And standardization just may be the key to that.

We'll wait and see. With our cynicism in check.

In Other News

» Of most worthy note in the not-a-surprise department is SGI's declaration of Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday. It marks a not-so-pleasant transition for SGI — a transition that we all pretty much saw coming.

Back in February, SGI made it quite clear that bankruptcy was on the table when it released its fourth quarter 2005 results. It was a prediction that came true this week. As part of a deal with its creditors, SGI filed for bankruptcy for its U.S. operations. Its international operations will remain unaffected. As a result, the company's debt will be reduced by $250 million. The move was not without its penalty: The company's stock dropped 80 percent to less than 6 cents in off-the-counter trading.

SGI is, on the surface, one of those Unix companies that didn't adapt fast enough to the encroachment of Linux and got its butt handed to it. But that's a simplistic notion. Clearly, while you can argue that SGI didn't embrace open source fast enough, its decision to remain locked in only the highest-end technology sectors has also played a part in its decline. We hope that SGI can pull itself around and perhaps get its offerings out to a wider audience soon.

» Novell seems to remain fixed on a specialized market, too. At least, that was the message from CTO Jeff Jaffe in an interview with CNET this week. Jaffe announced a new open source identity management program coming out later this month in addition to the July release of SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10.

Curiously, Jaffe took a rather defensive stance on the decision to remain focused on the enterprise. "With all due respect to the zealots of open source, it's not going to win the game if it's not focused on (enterprise) customer needs," he said in the interview.

To be honest, we weren't sure if open source "zealots" really cared what Novell did these days. The company remains locked on a persistent course to be a Red Hat also-ran, and Novell is starting to feel the squeeze of trying to out-Red Hat Red Hat. Of course, that may be just zealotry talking.

» Also in the "is anyone listening?" department: A successor has been named for Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz's old post. Greg Papadopoulos has been named CTO and executive vice president, R&D.

» FreeBSD 6.1, which we mentioned last week as a beta release, also went gold this week. This release was a polishing release for FreeBSD.

"A few new drivers were added, and that's very important for keeping FreeBSD relevant on new machines," FreeBSD release engineer Scott Long told our partners at internetnews.com. "But the vast majority of the work on 6.1 was focused on stability and polishing rough edges that were found in 6.0."

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