Interview: Red Hat's Szulik Sees Desktop Linux Take Off

The industry grew up selling customers more than they needed and there's a lot of software sitting around in enterprises that's not being used.

Earlier this month Red Hat announced a new version of the Linux operating system. Red Hat Desktop has been designed for the corporate desktop and will be a companion product to Red Hat's current desktop offering, Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS, the company says. The IDG News Service's Gillian Law spoke to Red Hat Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Matthew Szulik, who was in London for the product's global launch, about Linux, the desktop market and the future of software distribution.

You're confident the time is here for companies to run Linux on the desktop?

Yes. I've been a vision guy on this for a long time. But it's almost like the Odyssey, the siren song: I've been hearing, "When are you going to have a desktop product? ... When are you going to have a desktop product?" for six years, but it's very hard to market a desktop product. You have to pick the pain points, in this case security and cost. The combination of security and reducing the corporates total operating cost is what works.

Linux has been successful in the government space, is enterprise business more difficult to win?

Application support will be a big thing -- offering Oracle products on Linux, SAP products. And value. I don't think there's an organization in the world that isn't trying to save money. I've been talking about the enterprise model to journalists since 1999, and you guys thought I was smoking dope. It needed a couple of big enterprises to use it, and things like Larry Ellison (CEO of Oracle) rolling out Oracle support for Linux -- to say to the marketplace that this is for real.

You're doing work on embedded Linux with Wind River Systems but you seem to see desktop as being the first focus?

Yes, because I think there has to be an evolution. Once you have the applications running on the desktop you have the opportunity to move them to other clients.

And you intend to offer Red Hat on a Web service, utility computing basis?

I think if you look historically, the software industry has done damage to itself in an effort to meet its 90 day numbers. The industry grew up selling customers more than they needed and there's a lot of software sitting around in enterprises that's not being used. The combination of flexible networking technology and modular software is suited to the customer's needs.

Analysts are saying that your desktop software won't take off until the main hardware vendors offer it preinstalled. What are you doing on that front?

We're talking to all of the hardware companies, but the question really is what do they preload for a utility software model? That's the big question that hasn't been answered but discussions are underway. As large enterprises and governments pick up the product, there will be a market for preloading.

So is Red Hat Consumer Desktop next?

Now that's interesting. That won't be function-based, it'll be form-based. And when you look at the computing you and I will be using over the next 10 years, we won't have software resident on our hard drive. You'll go to somebody -- it may well be Red Hat -- and you'll get an e-mail package, a calendaring function, and it will be a subscription-based Web service. It's not that far away, look at what people do with their cellular phones today.

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