Other Commercial Desktop Distributions

Although there is no doubt that there is a viable business model for commercial enterprise server Linux distributions (a fact that has been amply demonstrated by the commercial success of SUSE/Novell and Red Hat), whether there is a real market for a commercial form of Desktop Linux is, at the time of this writing, still not absolutely certain.

It is at least arguable that the business model that has worked well for the server versions is not quite suited to the desktop market, where the need for support and maintenance from the vendor is much less acute.

There are a number of niche commercial distributions in the desktop area, the most important being Xandros and Linspire (which was formerly known as Lindows, but was forced to renounce that name by legal action). Both of these companies are staying afloat, but have not made serious inroads into the commercial market for business desktop operating systems.

Xandros is a business desktop version of Linux that has been tailored to join a Windows network seamlessly, particularly in terms of authentication against the Windows domain, login scripts, and group policy profiles. Xandros offers a KDE desktop with its own look and feel and also a proprietary file manager with some interesting features.

As its original name implies, Linspire's approach was to create a Linux desktop as similar as possible to Microsoft Windows in terms of user experience. Earlier versions bundled CodeWeavers software for running Windows applications, and its business model included an additional cost for the ability to run particular applications. Linspire has more recently made it clear that it is more interested in file compatibility. Among other things, it has produced a modified version of OpenOffice.org with changes to make it save files by default in Microsoft formats. As of this writing, Linspire has not released enterprise management tools. Its business model is now based on an annual subscription to a download and installation service that offers a large number of packages (both open source and proprietary) that are packaged specifically for Linspire.

One of the essential requirements for a business desktop OS (at least if it is installed locally on every client throughout the enterprise) is a management system that can look after a large number of installations and update and maintain them remotely. Xandros now offers such tools; at the time of writing, Linspire does not, but has announced that management tools will be available in the near future.

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