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Red Hat sees no consumer desktop Linux in its future

Company to focus on enterprise server and community versions

By Todd R. Weiss
April 17, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - If you're waiting to see market-leading Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. release a desktop Linux operating system anytime soon to compete in the consumer market, then think again.

The Raleigh, N.C.-based company is ceding the admittedly small and nascent demand to other Linux vendors, including Ubuntu, according to a post yesterday on one of Red Hat's blogs.

"We have no plans to create a traditional desktop product for the consumer market in the foreseeable future," the company said in the blog report, titled "What's Going On With Red Hat Desktop Systems? An Update."

"As a public, for-profit company, Red Hat must create products and technologies with an eye on the bottom line, and with desktops this is much harder to do than with servers," the post continued. "The desktop market suffers from having one dominant vendor, and some people still perceive that today's Linux desktops simply don't provide a practical alternative.

"Of course, a growing number of technically savvy users and companies have discovered that today's Linux desktop is indeed a practical alternative," the post said. "Nevertheless, building a sustainable business around the Linux desktop is tough, and history is littered with example efforts that have either failed outright, are stalled or are run as charities."

Instead, the company said, it will continue to focus its attention on its Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop edition, which is compatible with its Linux server operating systems; its open-source, community-supported and free Fedora Linux operating system; and its delayed but still-under-development Red Hat Global Desktop edition that's designed for small, reseller-supplied deployments in emerging markets.

A company spokesman declined to comment on the blog post today.

Red Hat's decision to stay out of the consumer market is not a surprise, said several industry analysts.

"One key word here is 'consumer' desktop," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. "They do have Red Hat Enterprise Linux desktop, so for enterprises, they do have a desktop product. They [also] have Fedora, so for a consumer who doesn't want to pay for a desktop operating system on their computer, they can always load up Fedora" for free, which has the most-needed consumer features and can be loaded with add-on video and music players as needed.

The need to include such players could be one of the reasons that the company is shying away from offering a consumer version, he said. "Red Hat's approach has always been pure open-source, so the need to have some proprietary codecs and things like that to round out a consumer desktop version, that's not really Red Hat's philosophy anyway."

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