May 4, 2004

Red Hat storms onto corporate desktop battlefield

Author: Chris Preimesberger

Red Hat formally threw itself into the corporate desktop ring Tuesday, announcing a new version of its operating system designed to sway companies from continuing to invest in Windows-based clients.

Red Hat Desktop is targeted -- at least at the outset -- at enterprise, government, and educational organizations, Chairman/CEO Matthew Szulik told a gathering of press, analysts, and company partners in a London conference. A version aimed at the general consumer market is not in the plans at the moment.

Just the features needed

"Red Hat Desktop is designed for companies looking to upgrade their PCs but don't want or need all the features that ship with the latest version of Windows," Szulik said. "These organizations now, for the very first time, have an alternative to the historical Microsoft-desktop paradigm."

Novell and Sun Microsystems may disagree with that last statement. Red Hat has other competition in the desktop operating system market besides Windows. Novell's SUSE Linux and Sun's Java Desktop System have a head start in the market, having been available for several months.

Red Hat also has been vague in the past about how it intends to enter the corporate desktop market. (See Joe Barr's commentary here.) Tuesday's conference was an attempt to clear up any misconceptions the market or the buying public might have about the company's overall strategy.

Red Hat Desktop will be sold in three packages: Red Hat Desktop Network Proxy Server, which offers 10 desktop systems at $2,500 per year; Red Hat Desktop Satellite Server, which offers 50 systems at $13,500 per year; and Red Hat Desktop Extension, which adds 50 deployments at $3,500 per year. All packages come with management software and a support plan.

The new desktop system features open source office applications including an e-mail client, Mozilla browser, and the OpenOffice suite. However, security and manageability are the two main assets the company is touting to its potential customers, Red Hat marketing executive Mike Ferris told NewsForge.

Extending Red Hat's back-end into the front office

"We're basically extending the open source architecture, management, and security capabilities (of Red Hat's backend system) into the front office," Ferris said.

Szulik contended that Red Hat Desktop is less expensive to administer and more secure than Microsoft's offerings. "What we wanted to was make sure that we were able to build a product that solved economic problems for customers," he said.

Red Hat's client strategy was derived directly from customer requests for more choice in the marketplace. "They've been asking for better security and manageability for a long time," Ferris said.

"Open source is now causing the enterprise to question traditional models of software and software availability," Szulik said in a company statement. "This is an architectural alternative that extends from devices, through the network, and into the datacenter, deployable and flexible without concern of lock-in."

Red Hat also said its existing customers will benefit from a consistent platform for both client and server applications and new customers will have the opportunity to pilot and integrate flexible open source alternatives.

"Several industry trends are coming together which are likely to change how organizations deploy information technology on the desktop," said Dan Kusnetzky, IDC's vice-president of system software research. "Strategies to lower costs while still providing a well managed, secure platform are increasingly important. This announcement makes it clear that Red Hat understands these emerging requirements and has a strategy to provide the needed products and services."


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