Sun upgrades Java Desktop System

Continuing its strategy of moving into the enterprise desktop space, Sun Microsystems has updated its Java Desktop System (JDS) to include central management capabilities, Sun announced Tuesday.

With JDS, Sun is trying to make inroads into the ever-growing field of Linux. But going after the Linux desktop space is tough because Microsoft Corp. still has an iron grip on the market with its Windows operating system.

JDS is based on Novell's SUSE Linux distribution. JDS 2 includes the GNOME 2.2 desktop environment, the StarOffice productivity suite, Mozilla browser, Evolution mail and calendar client and Java 2 Platform Standard Edition (J2SE). JDS 1 was unveiled in December 2003.

It is the IT managers who will really benefit from the changes in JDS 2, said Ed Moffat, team lead for desktop simplification at Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. in Markham, Ont. Most of the changes to JDS 2 will be transparent to the end user -- except some small usability issues, he added.

Now IT administrators can centrally set policies and configure desktops for single employees, workgroups or entire organizations, including locking down employees' desktops. This means IT managers can control who has access to what features in different applications. This comes in handy in case they have a contractor or partner working on-site, Moffat explained, and you don't want them accessing someone's calendar, for example.

"From a help desk and training perspective you can actually remotely take over somebody's PC, (similar to) PC Anywhere in the Windows world, " Moffat said.

Additionally, the desktops can be managed both centrally and remotely. This means the IT manager can easily deploy software, software patches and security updates around the organization without having to visit each desktop.

"The idea of central management of the desktop experience is really crucial and greatly facilitates keeping costs down," Moffat said.

Other enhancements to JDS 2 include new additions to the Mozilla Web browser such as better spam filtering and a pop-up ad eliminator.

Warren Shiau, research manager, Canadian software markets and directions at IDC Canada, said the new management capabilities are just what JDS needs to arouse more interest from the enterprise.

"If you look at all the things that would hold back adoption, they usually don't center on the actual cost," Shiau said. Linux aficionados frequently cite the open source operating system's lower cost as reason enough to migrate from Microsoft's Windows. If this was the case, you'd see companies switching left, right and center, but that's not what is happening, he added.

"The issue has been that in an enterprise environment you need all the surrounding management functionality to enable the desktop to work in that enterprise setting. This is what has been lacking," Shiau said.

Sun's competitors in the Linux desktop space, Novell and Red Hat Inc., are also heading in the direction of providing management tools for their desktop Linux distros. The perception is out there that Red Hat is playing catchup in this space -- and Shiau said that would be an correct assumption.

Developers can get a year's access to Sun's Java Studio Standard, which is worth about US$1,000, Moffat said, for the price of JDS 2. Other additions for developers include J2SE and NetBeans IDE 3.6.

Sun is currently selling JDS 2 for half of its normal price at US$50 per desktop or US$25 per employee until Dec. 2, 2004. The price includes 60 days of 24x7 phone and e-mail support. Enterprises can purchase additional support packages with price varying depending upon deployment.

Release 3 of JDS is due out in the in Q3 and beta testing is set to start in about six weeks, Moffat said. New additions to JDS 3 will include updated products within the suite, support for text to speech synthesis, Braille keyboard, more granular management capabilities and integration with Sun's thin-client environment, SunRay, to name a few, Moffat said.

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