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What’s Going On With Red Hat Desktop Systems? An Update

Red Hat is well known as a supplier of server systems, so the latest developments with our desktop products and technologies sometimes find themselves in the shade. It’s time for an update on the current state of the desktop at Red Hat.

Red Hat develops client solutions based on customer and partner demands. Our customers tell us what they need in a desktop - such as security, manageability and specific applications - while our partners help us ensure that the appropriate hardware support is available. Based on these demands, our desktop goals for 2008 and 2009 include:

  • Delivery and fostering of client technology advances through upstream community and partner collaboration. This means that much of the stuff we develop, and there’s a lot of it, is driven into the upstream open source community. It’s sad to see that not all vendors in the desktop space are doing this. By failing to be good community players they slow progress for everybody.
  • To build revenue-generating products. Something that any public company is in business to do!
  • To ensure that our desktop products complement our server and middleware products. Red Hat’s goal is to provide an integrated and comprehensive set of open source solutions, and the desktop has a vital part to play.

It’s worth pointing out what’s missing in the list above: we have no plans to create a traditional desktop product for the consumer market in the foreseeable future.



An explanation: 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 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. 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. But there’s good news too. Technical developments that have become available over the past year or two are accelerating the spread of the Linux Desktop.

Considering our goals listed above, our desktop product plans for 2008 and 2009 include:

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop. This is our fully supported, commercial product. It is 100 percent compatible with the Red Hat Enterprise Linux server products. Its focus is to provide a desktop environment that is secure and easily managed. And it is upgradeable with the Multi-OS option (which provides virtualization support) or the Workstation option (which provides high-end workstation capabilities).
  • Fedora. This is a Red Hat sponsored, fast-growing, free product. While Red Hat doesn’t formally support Fedora, users can turn to a healthy online community to obtain help when they need it.
  • Red Hat Global Desktop (RHGD). Plans for this product were originally announced at the 2007 Summit Conference. It is designed exclusively for small, reseller supplied, deployments in emerging markets (e.g. primarily the BRIC countries), and will be supplied by a number of Intel channel partners.

We originally hoped to deliver RHGD within a few months, and indeed the technology side of the product is complete. There have, however, been a number of business issues that have conspired to delay the product for almost a year. These include hardware and market changes, startup delays with resellers, getting the design and delivery of appropriate services nailed down and, unsurprisingly, some multimedia codec licensing knotholes. Right now we are still working our way through these issues. As mentioned earlier, the desktop business model is tough, so we want to be prepared before delivering a product to the emerging markets.

In summary, Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop and Fedora (and, hopefully soon, Red Hat Global Desktop) products are successfully meeting the needs of our chosen markets and customer base.

While we have your attention, it’s worth noting some development accomplishments in the past year:

Perhaps most visible over the past year was our development of the software for the One Laptop Per Child project. With the design and first implementation completed successfully, Red Hat handed the finished project over to the OLPC organization last year.

Other desktop related projects where Red Hat has been the primary developer, or a major contributor, include:

  • X Revitalization effort (kernel modesetting, randr, dri2)
  • Screen size control panel
  • PolicyKit & ConsoleKit
  • Gnome (screensaver, gvfs/gio, GtkPrint, etc)
  • Liberation Fonts (with sponsorship of the Harfbuzz font shaper project)
  • Theora encoder improvements
  • Sponsorship of Ogg Ghost (successor to Ogg Vorbis)
  • NetworkManager and Network driver work – developed by Red Hat
  • OpenOffice.org 64-bit port
  • OpenOffice.org integration into the rest of GNOME: Port to cairo, dictionary unification, print/file dialogs
  • PulseAudio
  • Bluetooth file sharing
  • Ongoing hal maintenance and revitalization
  • DBus and DBus activation
  • Multiple power management activities:

    - Tickless kernel

    - Gnome power manager and the quirks list

    - Suspend/resume enhancements

    - Laptop backlight intensity autocontrol

    - www.lesswatts.org project support (such as Powertop)

    - CPUfreq

    - AMD PowerNow!

  • and of course, lots and lots of bugfixes!

Looking to the future, Red Hat customers and partners appreciate that the world is moving to thin/virtualized/appliance-based clients so we are working with them to deliver open source technologies that make these systems possible. In fact Red Hat’s Appliance Operating System project, announced late last year, is expected to enter Beta in mid 2008. Of course these activities are triggering work on next-generation management capabilities and mobile computing projects. Hint: take a look at www.ovirt.org for pointers on where Red Hat’s Emerging Technologies Group is devoting some of its development resources today….