Desktop Linux users peer into Longhorn gap

The open source community is still hoping to see desktop versions of Linux enter the corporate enterprise, but vendors say Microsoft’s decision to make major changes to the next version of Windows will do little to help their cause.

Ever since Microsoft executives began discussing Longhorn

several years ago, members of the open source community have been trying to figure out how they will compete with some of the product’s key feature enhancements. Late last week, however, Microsoft said it would push back one of those features, the WinFS file system, while the Avalon graphical interface and Indigo Web communications framework will be released as upgrades to Windows XP.

There are already several versions of Linux for the desktop available to compete with Windows. One of them came from an early project at Ottawa’s Corel Corp, which later sold its Linux desktop assets to New York-based Xandros Corp. Red Hat Software has also been offering a desktop version of its distribution for some time, while the KDE project released version 3.3 of its free desktop environment earlier this month.

Open source pioneer Bruce Perens and several other organizations formed the non-profit Desktop Linux Consortium (DLC) to promote education and adoption of the technology. DLC spokeswoman Jill Ratkevic acknowledged that Microsoft’s decisions about Longhorn could allow Linux some time to gain more of a foothold in the enterprise desktop space, but she said no one really benefits from enhancements that don’t make it out the door.

“”Nobody wants Linux to fill a hole in the market because Microsoft couldn’t keep to its schedule,”” she said. “”The idea is to be a level competitor.””

John Danzig, who created and sells a desktop version of Linux called Libranet out of North Vancouver, said he pays little attention to Longhorn.

“”I don’t think Microsoft is driving the Linux desktop. I think it’s a movement on its own,”” he said. “”I think people coming to the Linux desktop are people from the Linux side already, who see Linux as being very capable.””

Michael O’Grady, an analyst with New York-based research firm Red Monk, said WinFS in particular would have set Longhorn apart from open source operating systems, but the availability of Avalon and Indigo in XP could cancel out any advantages Linux vendors gain by the delay.

“”I wouldn’t say it’s unilaterally one way or the other,”” he said.

Executives from Novell Inc. responded to interview requests from with a prepared statement from Nat Friedman, vice-president of its desktop technology group, who said open source vendors work off a modular, flexible development model that allows them to deliver new features to customers more regularly than Microsoft. The company has also said the delay will give it more time to push iFolder, which was recently released as an open source product. Like WinFS, iFolder stores data in a user’s real file system and tracks metadata in a separate location.

“”I’ve played around with iFolder. It’s OK,”” O’Grady said. “”What they’re trying to do is less ambitious than what the WinFS is trying to do. It’s two sides of the same coin. On the one side, (iFolder) gives you less functionality. On the other hand, it’s likely to get out sooner.””

Danzig said it would take more than delays from Microsoft to get Linux desktops in major corporations.

“”It’s security, really. IT mangers are not going to do any desktops unless they know they are safe and secure and that there’s going to be someone available to look after them,”” he said. “”I think you’re likely to see a lot more support coming in the future . . . at the moment it’s a risky choice for them.””

Ratkevic added that the open source community will be trying hard to make sure they learn as much as they can from Longhorn in order to smooth the transition process to Linux. “”People will say to us, ‘Why do you make it so much like Windows?'”” she said. “”But what users want is a consistent experience.””

The Linux operating system turned 13 years old on Friday, the same day Microsoft announced its changes to Longhorn.

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