Red Hat Inc. last week announced a desktop version of Linux that is designed for mainstream corporate users and includes open-source document-processing applications and messaging software.
The new release, called Red Hat Desktop, is a companion product to the vendor's current client-level offering. But the existing product, Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS, is aimed at technical users such as software developers and computer-aided design engineers, not office workers.
And unlike the technical release, which is sold on a per-system basis, Red Hat Desktop will be available in packages of 10 or 50 units when it begins shipping this month, said Mike Ferris, Red Hat's product marketing manager for Enterprise Linux.
Lt. Fred Wissing, application development services supervisor for the New Jersey State Police in West Trenton, plans to take a close look at Red Hat Desktop for possible use by the department's 4,000 end users. "We're going to snarf up a copy and install it and see what it can do," he said, adding that the evaluation process will include an examination of the existing end-user applications to see how many of them would have to be modified to use Linux.
Wissing said the department already uses Linux for a variety of back-office server functions, but only one power user is currently running desktop Linux as part of a trial. Several IT staffers have also installed Linux on their desktops, he said.
Red Hat Desktop will include open-source applications such as OpenOffice 1.1, the Evolution e-mail client and the Mozilla Web browser, Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat said.
Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at market research company IDC, said the fact that Red Hat is already known in the corporate server market should help the desktop software gain acceptance from users. But Red Hat will need more than that to succeed with the product, he added.
"They're going to need partnerships with every single one of the desktop hardware suppliers," Kusnetzky said. "If there isn't a strong story about how Linux comes preinstalled on the desktop hardware of your choice, then it will not be as broadly interesting."
Ferris said Red Hat executives are working with systems vendors to develop plans for marketing the software, but he added that no hardware makers are ready to announce support for Red Hat Desktop.
In March, Hewlett-Packard Co. said it would make Novell Inc.'s SUSE Linux software its standard desktop distribution of the operating system. HP supports Red Hat Linux on some of its notebook PCs and plans to do so on its desktop systems, an HP spokeswoman said. But she declined to comment on whether HP specifically plans to support Red Hat Desktop.
Robert McMillan is a reporter for the IDG News Service.