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Red Hat Begs To Clarify its Desktop Position

Last week – thanks to a posting on one of its blogs – Red Hat got itself into a pretty mess over whether it’s in or out of the desktop market, with the influential Wall Street Journal, among others, reporting that “Red Hat Abandons PC Plan.”

Well, Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens says that’s not exactly true.

He’s ready to concede that Red Hat, which has already canceled a couple of coming-out parties for its so-called Red Hat Global Desktop (RHGD), hasn’t a clue when the widgetry will debut – or, in fact, if it ever will.

It all depends, he says, on whether the commitments it got a year ago from Intel white box channels in emerging countries hold and whether everybody agrees on pricing and these resellers and integrators sign term sheets.

Brian says he will be “shocked” if Red Hat doesn’t get the commitments for millions of systems – and hence the go-ahead – but that the process will take a long time. Collecting signatures is apparently hard.

RHGD was supposedly for emerging markets, primarily the BRIC countries. But it was never clear that such a thing could be – or would be – contained to the Third World.

And now that hardware for emerging markets like Intel’s Classmate laptop is set to flood the US and European markets, and since RHGD was developed in concert with Intel for such Intel widgetry, well, expectations have been raised.

But Red Hat blogged late Wednesday that it has “no plans to create a traditional desktop product for the consumer market in the foreseeable future,” meaning the consumer market in America, Europe, Australia and Japan.

It says penetrating that consumer desktop market would be “much harder than with servers” and that building a sustainable business would be “tough.”

“History,” it says, “is littered with example efforts that have either failed outright, are stalled or are run as charities.”

In a left-handed way it blamed Microsoft. “The desktop market suffers,” it says, “from having one dominant vendor,” – and here’s the clincher – “and some people still perceive that today’s Linux desktop simply don’t provide a practical alternative.”

We are now told the blogger meant a separate for-a-fee home desktop SKU.

It doesn’t mean, Brian says, that Red Hat didn’t ultimately expect RHGD to bounce back to the US and Europe from emerging markets; it’s just trying to stage things in a phased rollout and avoid having to support and service RHGD users. Intel’s Classmate plans got ahead of Red Hat and Brian’s not sure what the numbers might be for Linux. He hasn’t talked to Intel about it.

The thing that’s delayed the sight-unseen RHGD, a cut-down version of its server-compatible commercial product, the Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop, he says, has been negotiations over the Microsoft-like multimedia codecs that RHGD needed so user could play music and watch videos.

Those negotiations were with a third party – not Microsoft – and Brian says he held up RHGD waiting for the lawyers to assure him that the third party actually had rights to the IP.

That’s finally been done, he said, and that means that all the RHGD technology is in the can – down to the localizations – and is supposed to explain why Red Hat, which announced RHGD at its Summit Conference last May, blew through its scheduled debut last August and again in September.

Its blog, however, suggest the delays were more comprehensive.

It says Red Hat had still hoped to deliver RHGD “within a few months” from now but “a number of business issues…have conspired to delay the product for almost a year. These include,” it goes on, “hardware and market changes, startup delays with resellers, getting the design and delivery of appropriate services nailed down and, unsurprisingly, some multimedia codec licensing knotholes. Right now we are still working our way through these issues. As mentioned earlier, the desktop business model is tough, so we want to be prepared before delivering a product to emerging markets.”

RHGD, by the way, is supposed to include an “enterprise class suite of productivity applications” and is actually targeted at SMBs.


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