Red Hat says no to consumer Linux desktop

The company plans to focus on enterprise systems and says it would not profitably be able to create a traditional desktop product
Written by Peter Judge, Contributor

Red Hat has quashed speculation that it was planning a consumer desktop version of Linux to compete with Windows, saying it is focused on enterprise systems and would not be able to make such a product profitably.

"We have no plans to create a traditional desktop product for the consumer market in the foreseeable future," Red Hat's Desktop Team said in a blog report. "As a public, for-profit company, Red Hat must create products and technologies with an eye on the bottom line, and with desktops this is much harder to do than with servers. The desktop market suffers from having one dominant vendor, and some people still perceive that today's Linux desktops simply don't provide a practical alternative."

The post acknowledges that "technically savvy users" see Linux a practical alternative, but says this is not enough to build a sustainable business around the Linux desktop: "History is littered with example efforts that have either failed outright, are stalled or are run as charities."

Analysts and commentators have backed the decision, agreeing that Red Hat is not a consumer company, and getting users to pay for a Linux desktop would be an uphill struggle when Windows is usually bundled with the hardware. "Red Hat has always been about the corporate market, the enterprise market, the server market," said ZDNet.com blogger Dana Blankenhorn. "[Red Hat's] efforts on the desktop have been, essentially, throwaways."

The company's decision to stay away from the consumer desktop is less about Microsoft's dominance there than about Ubuntu, which is the leading challenger in that space, Blankenhorn said. "I don't know why this needs repeating. Linux is not like Windows. It's not one company. It's an ecosystem. Everyone does what they're best at, and that's how it works," he argued. "Anyone who has read anything about open source for any length of time understands Ubuntu's commitment to the desktop, and its dominance of that portion of the Linux market."

Although it's not working on a consumer desktop, it is planning a product for Intel resellers to ship in emerging markets, which will be called Red Hat Global Desktop. Apart from this, its main desktop focus will be its commercial, supported Enterprise Linux Desktop, as well as the free unsupported Fedora desktop.

Novell has also indicated it will leave consumer desktops alone for now. "The market for the desktop for the next three to five years is mainly enterprise-related," Novell chief executive Ron Hovsepian said in an interview quoted on PC World.com. Novell also offers a free desktop Linux for consumer use, alongside an enteprise Linux desktop.

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