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Linux powers throw weight behind desktop version

Red Hat, IBM and an open-source consortium are each beginning serious work to advance Linux for use on desktop computers, possibly making the OS a more serious threat to Microsoft.

Red Hat, IBM and an open-source consortium are each beginning serious work to advance Linux for use on desktop computers.

At the Desktop Linux Conference in Boston, Red Hat and IBM detailed their desktop Linux plans. And the Open Source Development Lab, which so

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far has concentrated on Linux for the data storage and processing computers called servers, expects to launch a new group to concentrate on desktop needs starting next year.

The three efforts pool three influential organizations in the Linux world behind the effort, which could make the open-source operating system a more serious threat to Microsoft. Microsoft has acknowledged the Linux threat but argues that its new version of Windows will enable it to maintain its dominance.

Linux for use on desktop computers has had some successes--notably a deal under which the city of Munich will buy 14,000 Linux desktop computers.

OSDL, a consortium that employs Linux leader Linus Torvalds, among others, intends to set up a committee by early in the first quarter of 2004 to plan its work on desktop Linux, said Nelson Pratt, OSDL director of marketing. Ultimately, he said, the organization expects to set up a working group to investigate the issues.

OSDL, funded by the industry's computing giants, takes guidance on which aspects of Linux it should explore from those companies and from the customers who use their products.

"Our user advisory council, as well as a number of our current (information technology) member companies, have expressed an interest in doing the same sort of investment of driving Linux to the we're doing with the data center," Pratt said. The work will dovetail with that being done by the group's data center Linux working group, which focuses on high-end features for servers.

Red Hat is an OSDL member, but it has several plans of its own to improve the operating system for corporate users, according to a presentation at the Boston conference by Brian Stevens, vice president of operating system development for Red Hat. Specifically, Red Hat is working on making desktop Linux:

• Easier to use, with a more polished interface, integrated search and instant-messaging software, better office software such as word processors, and improved configuration tools;

• More interoperable with Microsoft products, including Active Directory, Exchange, Windows Media and Microsoft Office file formats;

• Better at connecting to corporate computing services such as remote management software, user authentication, and calendar and messaging software.

As expected, IBM also spoke at the conference, warming to desktop Linux after having just previously plugged it for servers. Sam Docknevich of IBM's Global Services group said Microsoft is one reason customers should consider Linux.

"To stay on the Microsoft road map, customers must move to .Net, (which) requires significant retraining and redevelopment," Docknevich said in his presentation. Microsoft's .Net initiative provides a new foundation for software that uses next-generation Internet services and other significant changes.

Docknevich said another pitfall is Microsoft's licensing program, which effectively raised prices for customers. And he said Linux can provide a way around "vendor lock-in"--the risk that a customer is beholden to a particular company once the company buys its products.