Red Hat returns to the Linux desktop

Red Hat used to be in the desktop business along with all the other Linux distributors. Then, they left. As Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat's CEO, explained Red Hat's desktop approach to me last year, "There are companies that sell hundreds of products for millions of dollars and there are companies that sell millions of products for hundreds of dollars. Guess which kind of company Red Hat is?"

Now, however, Red Hat is switching from Xen to KVM for virtualization. As part of that switchover, Red Hat will be using not only KVM, but the SolidICE/SPICE (Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments) desktop virtualization and management software suite to introduce a new server-based desktop virtualization system.

Does this mean that Red Hat will be getting back into the Linux desktop business? That's the question I posed to Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens, in a phone call after the Red Hat/KVM press conference, and he told me that, "Yes. Red Hat will indeed be pushing the Linux desktop again."

What got Red Hat interested in the desktop again was that SolidICE/SPICE and the "virtual desktop management suite desktop made the desktop much more interesting." And, Stevens continued, it's not just good for the Linux desktop. "This open-source software can solve management problems for both Windows and Linux desktops. So, while it absolutely makes sense for us to deliver a Red Hat desktop on a virtualized platform, we can also put Windows and Linux desktops side by side. With Red Hat's virtualization, users will no longer have a choice of one or the other, they can have both."

Specifically, the new virtual Red Hat Desktop will be managed by Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager for Desktops. This virtual desktops management system, Red Hat claims, will deliver three to five times better cost-performance for both Linux and Windows desktops.

The desktops themselves, both Windows and Linux, will run on Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Hypervisor. By using SolidICE and SPICE remote rendering technology, this will not be yet another thin-client approach. This will be a full-powered desktop that can handle HD video and video-conferencing. On a high-speed network with sufficiently muscular servers, Red Hat expects both Windows and Linux desktop users to have a full desktop experience without performance or feature compromises.

This follows up with Red Hat's existing Linux desktop efforts. It's not that Red Hat ever gave up on doing things with the desktop. It's just that Red Hat had no plans on making any money from the desktop with a formal desktop product.

Instead, Red Hat kept working on Linux desktop improvements, like improving Linux's audio playback with PulseAudio and making software installation and management easier with PackageKit. You just wouldn't find these improvements in a Red Hat Personal Desktop. Instead, you'd find them in Fedora 10, Red Hat's community Linux.

Things are changing. Now that Red Hat has a way to fit the Linux desktop into its corporate business plans, the formal Red Hat Linux desktop is on its way back. You can expect to see it in the late summer of 2009 soon after RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) 5.4 appears.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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