|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] Free Software Desktops are in the news again
Every IT trade show needs a theme, and it's usually not the one
advertised in the brochure. It's reflected either in the kinds of
products in the exhibit hall or the buzz you hear in the conference
tracks. Comdex Fall 1998, for example, was all about biometric security
devices. By 2002, it was the year
of the tablet PC. This year's Real World Linux show in Toronto confirmed
open source on the desktop as the industry's latest Holy Grail, and boy,
are the hopes high.
Part of the excitement can be explained by the need to chart Linux's
progress. Its success in Web servers and databases has hardly plateaued,
but further growth may be more incremental than what we've come to
expect. Embedded Linux applications are flourishing, too, but there's a
sense that something's missing. In a panel discussion yesterday, Linux
International evangelist John "maddog" Hall summed up the popular
sentiment: "It's really the desktop that's the last place for Linux to
grow into, in part because there's already an incumbent."
This is no doubt one of the reasons Microsoft has been deploying Alex
Taylor, its senior manager of platform strategy, on a North American
tour to discuss "options" with key customers. Taylor has also been busy
with a slew of appearances, including ITBusiness.ca and the Toronto
Star, as the counterpoint to Linux enthusiasts who are also making the
most of Real World Linux this week.
The battle for customer mindshare is more heated this year in part
because the open source community has an established enterprise software
firm, Novell, preaching the Linux desktop message. Novell, which was one
of Real World Linux's marquee sponsors, was smart to import Ximian
co-founder Nat Friedman as the keynote speaker. Though he performed a
similar dog and pony show at Novell's recent Brainshare conference, Real
World Linux put him in a more traditional open source milieu but keeps
him under the Novell flag.
Friedman admitted that a Linux desktop revolution isn't likely to happen
all at once, but he highlighted Novell's plans to move its 6,000
employees to Linux on the desktop internally. Its deadline is
Hallowe'en, which suggests some black magic might be necessary, but this
putting-your-OS-where-your-mouth-is strategy could become a useful
marketing tool for years to come. Right now, according to CGI
vice-president of emerging technologies Ross Buttons, most enterprises
want someone else to be the guinea pig. "Replacing 5,000 desktops (with
Linux) is a bit radical for them," he said at the show.
Novell has also managed to sustain, with some difficulty, support among
NetWare users despite considerable competition in the marketplace. The
trick will be enticing desktop application developers, and this, more
than anything, will be the barrier
(suggestion: hire someone bald, stocky and hyperactive). Although Real
World Linux included at least one session on an open source ERP
implementation, there isn't a breadth of compelling Linux-based customer
relationship management or business intelligence products. In fact, most
customers would tell you the Windows-based CRM and BI tools aren't that
compelling either, and the headaches they've gone through will make them
loathe to switch to Linux or any other platform.
Novell's best shot may come from porting its single sign-on and
eDirectory services to SUSE and convincing customers like the ones it
has won in Canada to take advantage of Linux's scaleability. If it's
simple, secure and affordable, platform choices become much easier.
Maybe that will be the theme for Real World Linu
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