Red Hat eyes client opportunities

Red Hat Inc. is accelerating development of Linux for the desktop and handheld clients, but sees considerable work to complete before facing Microsoft Corp. in the consumer market, according to the company's chief executive officer (CEO).

"Microsoft has been delivering a desktop product now for almost 14 or 15 years, ever since it introduced Windows, and that is the expectation that most customers in the marketplace have about ease of use, about function," said Matthew Szulik, Red Hat's chairman and CEO. "So for Red Hat to move into the consumer marketplace means that we have to exceed that expectation, and that will take time."

The Raleigh, North Carolina, company believes it can compete with Microsoft on price. However, Red Hat wants to guarantee users an exceptional Linux product experience with their software before entering the consumer market, according to Szulik.

"We don't want the user getting frustrated in understanding why the search does not work, or can't find files, or finding that the joystick for their games does not work correctly, all of which ultimately will turn that desktop user back to the competitive alternative," Szulik added.

Red Hat does not, however, have a time frame on the availability of its consumer Linux desktop. Red Hat currently offers its Enterprise Linux WS (workstation) product for desktop deployments.

"The Linux client marketplace is very important to our business and we have been accelerating our rate of investment in development activities around the Linux client," said Szulik, whose definition of clients includes PDAs ( personal digital assistants), consumer PCs and business PCs.

The requirement for each Linux client is different, according to Szulik.

"When you look at the government or the banking marketplace, integration is critically important to that market, testing is very important, standard interfaces and standard protocols are very important, and security is critically important," he said. "If you get into the consumer (desktop) marketplace, things like reliability to make sure that all of your device drivers and adapters work simply and easily is very important."

On the enterprise front, Red Hat is not rushing to introduce products built around the 2.6.0 version of the Linux kernel released last December. "We put some of the sophistication that we thought was in the 2.6 kernel in the current implementation of Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 3," said Szulik. "An example would be memory management capability, another would be multi-threading capability.

Szulik also has different distribution goals for the 2.6 kernel. "I don't think we would distribute the 2.6 kernel in the traditional sense of a Linux distribution," he said. "I think we are taking the key aspects of it, and we will continue to do that. The 2.6 kernel is not important for us, but some of the functionality within it is."