Linux-to-Windows Link Creates Flexible Strategy

With the release of Windows 2000 expected soon, many companies are beginning to examine the future of the end-user desktop in light of the electronic-business age. For many corporations, the expense of maintaining thick clients is no longer viable - many end-users can complete their job functions with a lightweight client.

As business leaders examine Windows 2000 and consider their options, the usual ideas of expanding memory and disk capacity of existing systems are certain to crop up.

But there are other options. For example, consideration should be given to replacing a percentage of end-user desktops with inexpensive network appliances and leveraging expanded server capacity to support the needs of the end-users.

Perhaps unnoticed in the mix of the millennium rollover, merger mania, and the court case between Microsoft and the Department of Justice, Corel (http://www.corel.com) recently unveiled a version of Linux that is geared specifically toward the end-user desktop. Corel's Linux is very easy to install, and it integrates exceedingly well with Windows and other network operating systems.

In my tests late last year with Corel's Linux, I found it a stellar, inexpensive, and highly manageable desktop solution. Corel's announcement this month may pleasantly surprise managers considering Windows 2000 and end-user computing strategies.

Corel has announced that it will integrate GraphOn's Bridges technology into Corel Linux. The company expects to release a new version of Corel Linux that contains the integration by mid-2000. GraphOn's Bridges enables Linux-based end-users to access and run Windows-based applications on their desktops. This support means that Linux-based users and Windows-based users will be able to access and use the same applications.

Windows users who need to access Linux applications can now do so via products such as WRQ's Reflection X, which I also reviewed last year (see "Reflection X unites desktop applications, extends support to Linux," http://www.infoworld.com/printlinks). Reflection X proved a useful tool for seamlessly blending Windows and Linux application access.

In years past, some IT managers have expressed concern about potential application performance problems or bottlenecks when leveraging these cross-platform application-access solutions. Although early solutions did exhibit some performance glitches, the products now available, including WRQ's Reflection X, do not hinder application performance. This improvement can likely be attributed to server-side hardware and software enhancements.

Corel is the first Linux provider to add the capability of accessing and running Windows applications. I predict you'll see other Linux providers go the same route in the near future. It is too early to speculate how well Corel will integrate Windows application access and how peppy a performer the GraphOn Bridges technology will be. However, I believe an evaluation of the forthcoming Corel Linux release is a good idea for sites that are open-minded about potential solutions.

Managers developing end-user computing strategies should consider Linux-based access of Windows applications as a cost-effective measure. In particular, sites that have a large number of end-users may not want to absorb the cost of upgrading existing hardware for Windows 2000. And buying new end-user hardware to roll out Windows 2000 desktops may prove too expensive at many sites -- even with the availability of low-cost network appliances.

For example, you might consider implementing Linux desktops for end-users whose tasks include working with office documents, e-mail, Web browsing, and the like. You might implement Windows 2000 on a certain percentage of your desktops, too. Both sets of end-users would be able to access and run the same applications -- and make less of an impact on your bottom line.

For Corel, the GraphOn Bridges technology provides a vehicle that could help users of Windows applications more easily migrate to native Linux applications, such as Corel's office applications or Sun's StarOffice. For IT managers, the Corel solution could provide another avenue to reduce desktop costs.

The integration of the GraphOn Bridges technology may not be completed until summer. But IT managers may wish to test drive the existing Corel Linux now to evaluate just how well it already integrates with Windows and other operating systems. Corel Linux is available at no cost for sites that want to download and install it with limited vendor-supplied support. Telephone and e-mail support plans are priced on a per-incident basis.

Companies that are evaluating what steps to take on the desktop will want to compare the cost vs. functionality of hardware upgrades, and Windows 2000 licensing vs. the expense of replacing desktops with network appliances. Corel's announcement provides a third possible solution to consider for the future of the desktop.

Have you determined the desktop strategy for your company? What steps will you take to rein in the cost of end-user computing? Write to me at mailto:maggie_biggs@infoworld.com.

Maggie Biggs is director of the InfoWorld Test Center. She has more than 15 years of strategic and tactical IT experience in the financial sector.

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