Linux on the desktop slow to take off

While 1998 proved to be the year Linux took the server market by storm, a lot of work needs to happen before Linux can repeat this feat on the desktop.

Leading the Linux desktop charge is Corel Corp., which is striving to release its NetWinder Linux Computer sometime next month. The machine, which will be priced between $729 and $1179, will come bundled with the Linux operating system and KDE GUI desktop, Netscape Communicator 4.5, Corel's WordPerfect for Linux, and other desktop features.

According to Corel officials, this machine could be an attractive alternative to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows in the corporate desktop niche. "Fortune 500 companies need their desktops to be highly functional, highly predictable, [and] highly supportable," says Ron McNab, executive vice president at Corel Computer, the hardware arm of Corel. This package offers all of these enticements, he says.

This isn't the first time Corel has targeted the Linux desktop, as the Canadian computing giant has been offering its WordPerfect application on the open-source platform for nearly a year. And earlier this month, Corel began giving away the software for free.

"We'd like to become the dominant brand in the Linux world... We want to seed the market and bring Linux over to the desktop," says McNab.

A long way to go Despite Corel's gusto surrounding the Linux desktop, it has been very slow getting off the ground. According to International Data Corp.'s preliminary 1998 numbers, Linux captured only 2.5 percent of the worldwide desktop market, positioning itself between Macintosh and IBM's OS/2 in the OS pecking order. Compared to Microsoft Windows' 86 percent market share, it isn't much to base a business on.

Some of the bigger Linux distributors agree, and have taken aim at the server OS business where the open-source contender grew at a sizzling 212-percent clip in 1998, according to IDC, garnering about 17 percent of the total market.

Caldera Inc., for example, has always targeted the server market, and will soon release a Linux business server equipped to run ports from database vendors like Oracle Corp. In fact, with its "several hundred dollar" price tag, the new product signals a march farther up the food chain and away from the desktop. "We've always viewed Linux as a server product," says Caldera's director of channel development Dean Martin.

Competing Linux distributor Red Hat Software Inc. has not been as quick to write off the desktop market. In fact, Red Hat Linux 5.2 was released with the intention of seeding the server market through desktop deployments, says company president Bob Young.

But even Young concedes the platform has a way to go. "It's a catch-22. Vendors like Intuit tend to port software to a platform where there are a lot of users. But users come to a platform that has a lot of good applications," he says. "So the question with Linux always is, where are all the applications?"

Vendors like Corel can only hope their answers are sufficient.

Take me to the Linux Lounge -- home of ZDNet's best recent Linux coverage.

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