Could the Time Be Right for Red Hat to Compete On the Desktop?

by Sam Dean - Apr. 13, 2011Comments (1)

While Red Hat's story is one of very consistent success based on a unique business model of providing subscription support and services for open source software, the company has also consistently eschewed competing on the consumer desktop. Although the Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop has been available and offers features for both administrators and end users, the company has consistently maintained that it doesn't need to compete at the consumer desktop level. Rather, at the server level, Red Hat has found its sweet spot. But the company is preparing, for delivery in 2012, the renewed rollout of a Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments (SPICE)-based virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Could the time be right for Red Hat's desktop-based moment in the sun?

As Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols explains, Red Hat's rollut is essentially a thin-client strategy:

"This revised desktop will use SPICE, which like Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and Citrix’s Independent Computing Architecture (ICA), is a desktop presentation services protocol. The point of these programs is to let the servers do the heavy lifting while a thin-client gives the user the illusion of a full fat-client desktop. This desktop won’t be a competitor to traditional desktops like the forthcoming Ubuntu 11.04 or Windows 7. Thin clients are meant for corporate desktops, like those in a company where Red Hat is already powering the servers."

SPICE works with KVM (Kernel Virtual Machine)--a proven virtualization platform. It offers Red Hat the opportunity to offer businesses that already favor its tools at the server level a robust option for offering end users a workable Linux-based desktop environment. That wouldn't have been Red Hat's focus before, but virtualization has steadily improved to the point where many users have multiple environments running on one desktop, and SPICE could help Red Hat's platforms become further entrenched in many businesses. Doesn't Microsoft maintain influence at the server level through its desktop-based applications and operating systems? Of course there is major synergy there, and Red Hat may have an opportunity to leverage similar synergy now that virtualization is taken seriously by many businesses.

Red Hat is unlikely to create any firestorm at the desktop level with this move, but SPICE is a sign that the company takes the desktop very seriously. Especially if SPICE can offer performance roughly comparable to standard desktop environments, it could change Red Hat's entire business. We'll have to wait until 2012 to see how this plays out, but Vaughan-Nichols' report is worth reading, especially since Red Hat claims to have achieved impressive performance levels with SPICE already.

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I think the single biggest factor keeping linux (no matter the distro) is the lack of a serious Office competitor. OpenOffice just isn't it. I'm hoping LibreOffice really kicks into high gear and brings real competition to Office, but it's in it's infancy, and still relies on OpenOffice's code base.

Until the linux world comes up with a visually appealing, user friendly office suite that office types can seamlessly transition to, cubicle denizens won't readily adapt.

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