Demand from customers has pushed Linux software publisher Red Hat to perform a U-turn and offer a full commercial Linux desktop from this summer.
As part of a heavy development schedule, the Linux firm is planning summer releases for the first beta of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 (RH EL4), its new corporate desktop, and the final version of its Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) Red Hat Application Server (RH AS).
"We are very busy," Deb Woods, vice president of programme management at Red Hat, told vnunet.com. "There's a lot of work on the application server, storage integration and scalability."
Work in progress includes integration of the new Linux 2.6 kernel and testing scalability on eight-to-16 CPU clusters in RH EL4, which is also due to include failover capability for the first time.
New system and configuration management software will also be integrated with RH EL4, which is scheduled for a full release in the first quarter of 2005.
Woods said demand from corporate customers had driven several specific desktop client betas, which would culminate in a general corporate client this summer. But she added that the decision did not mean Red Hat would resurrect its consumer desktop just yet.
"Linux lacks functionality such as plug-and-play and gaming features to make it suitable for home users, but OpenOffice and media software gives corporates the facilities they need," she said.
RH EL4 represents a change in strategy, analysts commented.
"The market has changed a bit since Novell bought SuSE. Red Hat's strategy is [now] that it can provide the infrastructure for all. But it is trying to do a lot with relatively few people," said Chris Ingle, senior consultant with IDC.
James Governor, principle analyst at Red Monk, added: "We've seen a lot of corporate interest in the desktop, so the move doesn't surprise me."
Of other projects, Red Hat's Woods said RH AS, based on the Jonas open source J2EE application server, was more open than competitor JBoss and so had more open source developers improving its functionality.
"The AS is a core component of the operating environment so this move is not unexpected. But there is a danger of spreading itself too thin and it raises competitive issues with partners," said Governor.
Red Hat also plans to enter the storage market following its acquisition of Sistina and its GFS virtualised storage management suite last autumn.
And the firm is jointly developing Red Hat Embedded Linux with Wind River, integrating it with Wind River's development tools and middleware to create a standard platform.
A carrier-grade version of Linux for telecoms companies is also in progress, and new system and configuration management software is being integrated.
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