[fdn-ann] TechWeb on GNOME


Desktop Is Next Frontier For Linux
08/14/00, 7:02 p.m. ET
By Barbara Darrow, TechWeb News

Linux may not be everywhere yet, but it's making progress.

At Linuxexpo this week, several key vendors are expected to push the open 
source operating system beyond Internet servers --where it is already 
entrenched -- to the desktop.

The desktop is, in fact, the next frontier for the operating system, which 
is already compact enough to run tiny PDA devices.

But, as yet, Linux lacks a viable desktop application suite that could lure 
users out of the Microsoft Corp. (stock: MSFT) camp, where Microsoft 
Office, running on Windows, dominates.

"Long gone are the days when people pick an OS and then pick a machine to 
run it. They start with the application they want to run, then pick the 
OS/hardware that supports it," said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of 
systems software research for IDC, Framingham, Mass.

Toward that end, an unlikely group of allies, including hardware rivals Sun 
Microsystems Inc. (stock: SUNW), Mountain View, Calif.; IBM Corp. (stock: 
IBM); Hewlett-Packard Co. (stock: HWP), Palo Alto, Calif; as well as Linux 
stalwarts like VA Linux Systems Inc. (stock: LNUX), Sunnyvale, Calif., are 
collaborating on GNOME, a common user interface for Linux.

Currently, GNOME and KDE are the two most popular GUIs for Linux, which is 
otherwise a non-graphical operating environment.

A single, predominant graphical face would make it possible for a Linux 
application suite, like Sun's StarOffice, or Corel Corp. (stock: CORL) 
Office, to gain critical mass, observers said.

Sun,which has been slow to warm to the Linux/Open Source phenomenon, will 
work with Gnome to ensure that Star Office will integrate well with GNOME 
tighter than it now does, Kusnetzky said.

The big question will be how much Office/StarOffice compatibility the Linux 
forces will offer. If users cannot always open documents created with 
Microsoft Word or Excel and lose a few hours opening that document in 
StarOffice "organizations will not go for it," Kusnetzky said.

Given the high-cost of knowledge workers these days, even two to three 
hours of downtime a year would cost more than the price of Microsoft Office 
up front, he said.

"If we use Linux for basic infrastructure support, Web services, messaging, 
firewall, proxy servers, Linux has all that's needed right now," Kusnetzky 
said. "If you want an application environment to run the most popular 
commercial [server] applications, it is still growing.

"But in the desktop market, where 98.5 million copies of software sold and 
Microsoft held 88 percent share, Linux is just under 4 percent of the 
market," Kusnetzky added.

There is skepticism that yet another group of Microsoft bashers can succeed 
where similar efforts --OpenDoc comes to mind --failed. The difference here 
is that GNOME, "already exists. It was a very active effort that many 
open-source companies were involved with and these other companies came to 
late," said Larry Augustin, president and chairman of VA Linux, a maker of 
Linux-based hardware.

Indeed, IBM, HP, Dell Computer Corp. (stock: DELL), and other hardware 
powers as well as software giants such as Oracle Corp. (stock: ORCL), 
Redwood Shores, Calif., have fallen all over themselves to bless Linux, 
which is seen as the next, best hope of dethroning Microsoft.

Then there are the pure Linux plays-companies like Red Hat Inc. (stock: 
RHAT), Caldera (stock: CALD), and VA Linux -- all of whom based their 
businesses on the operating system from the ground up.

IBM, HP, and Compaq Computer Corp. (stock: CPQ), Houston, have to balance 
Linux against their own homegrown Unix operating systems.

Augustin thinks Sun's effort could bolster Linux on the desktop "if sun can 
really get the usage out there. The question is whether Sun really means it 
when they promise StarOffice will be Open Source

"They claim that they'll release it under the GNU public license and if 
they do that it will have a chance at succeeding," he added.

Solution providers that support both Linux and Windows say the foundation's 
efforts on the desktop side are great -- as long as they support the 
existing desktop standard -- Microsoft office.

"Most customers are using Microsoft Office," said Hal Davison, owner of 
Davison Consulting, a Linux-Windows consulting firm in Sarasota, Florida. 
"If the GNOME people develop a common API, that may be great, but the final 
has to be compatible with Microsoft's .doc format. The underlying 
application has to be 100 percent compatible."

In the past, Sun has stopped short of true open-source licensing, offering 
Java and its other software under Sun's Community license.

That meant third-party developers could tweak the code but could not 
distribute their work to others. Instead, they have to return their adapted 
code to Sun, which then effectively controlled distribution.

Dell chairman Michael Dell will kick off the show with a Tuesday morning 
keynote. And, Linux prodigy Linus Torvalds will award a $25,000 Community 

Other speakers will include Caldera president CEO Ransom Love, and HP chief 
scientist Joel Birnbaum.

CRN's Paula Rooney contributed to this story.

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