Red Hat tries new desktop Linux angle

Red Hat Global Desktop, the company's latest PC-oriented Linux product, is aimed for users in developing nations.

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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Red Hat announced a new version of its Linux software on Wednesday geared for desktop and laptop computer customers in developing nations.

Red Hat Global Desktop is geared for customers including governments and small businesses in emerging markets. Intel is a partner in the design and distribution of the software, which is geared specifically for several Intel PC designs dubbed Classmate, Affordable, Community and Low-Cost for emerging-nation customers.

Desktop Linux has never been a major focus at Red Hat, whose profits chiefly have come from selling support subscriptions for customers using its software on servers. Servers never were dominated by Microsoft Windows the way desktop PCs are, and Unix, to which Linux is a close cousin, has long been widely used on servers.

But the Raleigh, N.C.-based company has tried. In 2004, Red Hat unveiled a desktop Linux product aimed at Microsoft.

One competitor, Canonical, has more desktop Linux buzz. Last week, Dell announced it would preinstall Canonical's Ubuntu Linux version on some of its PCs.

Compared with other earlier efforts, Red Hat now is taking less of a one-size-fits-all approach, the company said. Along with the Global Desktop version is a flavor of the new Red Hat Enterprise Linux designed for large companies that want to ease administration and security issues. And it's working on the One Laptop Per Child effort to bring $100 laptops to students in poor countries who've never used computers before.

"Commercial customers are still begging for desktop security and manageability for their knowledge workers; consumers are rapidly adopting new online services and applications; and developing nations are looking for affordable information technologies that bypass traditional desktops entirely," said Red Hat Chief Technology Officer Brian Stevens in a statement. "Our strategy is to deliver technologies that are specifically appropriate to these varied constituents, all based on open standards."

Red Hat also hopes to boost RHEL with "a new model for protecting the privacy of critical data to meet the needs of environments such as financial services, health care and government institutions," the company said. It's likely that refers to Stateless Linux, an approach that stores data on a central server. Some Stateless Linux underpinnings have been added to the latest version of RHEL, released in March.

Red Hat didn't share when it plans to release the Global Desktop software or how it plans to sell it beyond piggybacking on Intel's reseller channel.

The company announced the new desktop version at its Red Hat Summit in San Diego. It also announced a partnership for new promotion and security work involving Red Hat Enterprise Linux on IBM's mainframe computers and a partnership with Intel to deliver specialized virtual versions of its operating system.

In this latter push, Red Hat will package its software as a "virtual appliance" that runs on top of virtualization software such as Xen and alongside whatever other operating system a customer is using.

"Virtual appliances can be used to enable functions such as network security, provisioning, monitoring and asset management, regardless of the state of the desktop operating system," Red Hat said. And Red Hat will develop and support the virtualization technology and software development kit for such appliances.

On Thursday, Red Hat is expected to announce the arrival of its Red Hat Exchange, under which Red Hat will sell support for a number of open-source software packages through partnerships with the companies backing those projects.