Want a secure seat at the corporate Linux desktop lunchroom table in 2005?
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Just follow the example set by French Linux vendor Mandrakesoft. This week the company continued its corporate application drumbeat with the release of Corporate Server and Corporate Desktop, two Linux systems the company said have received specific development efforts to make them "enterprise ready."
While the release of the two fresh applications is good news for the French firm, which struggled in bankruptcy before re-emerging in mid-2004, it could also become a boon for companies that wish to find their own slice of the Linux market in the coming year.
Principal analyst Charles King, of Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Research, said when large, well-known companies like Mandrakesoft, IBM and Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc. put their weight in Linux, it gives smaller companies further incentive to pursue Linux applications of their own.
"A lot of companies like Mandrakesoft are looking to capture lighting in a bottle and look around at what some bigger companies are doing," King said. "When you see the big guys putting development money and effort into a project like Linux, it creates opportunities for the smaller guys to kind of grab the PR vibe around it."
King explained that vendors looking at Big Blue, for example, would see a vertical market strategy that would work for them if they were tailoring Linux applications for specific or limited areas of business that did not need a full version of Windows.
"[Bank] branches and financial institutions may have limited desktop function needs and don't need the full-blown versions of solitaire games. This is a space where Linux plays very well," King said.
Desktops not just about software
When Mandrakesoft released Corporate Server 3.0 and Corporate Desktop, it also released it with longer development cycles -- roughly 12 to 18 months in length – which differed from its previous approach of shorter development cycles. The French firm also included a five-year maintenance plan to accompany the enterprise edition products, and designed them to be as easily configurable as possible.
"These products have received specific development and testing efforts to make them as fit as possible for use in a business environment," said GaËl Duval, Mandrakesoft's co-founder.
"The new Corporate Server is meant to facilitate deployment through its auto-installation and easy configuration capabilities. It can be used for any kind of server tasks, from LDAP [Lightweight Directory Access Protocol] to Web [serving]," Duval said.
As for the Corporate Desktop, it "was designed for the coming wave of Linux on the desktop. The problem of over-abounding, sometimes immature open source software has been solved in this product through careful testing and screening of software applications," Duval said.
King explained that longer development cycles affected users by reducing the number of updates they received from a given company. Users could assume that a vendor with longer development cycles is spending more time making significant improvements to an application.
But because the applications in question are Linux-based, the company ultimately has more control over the direction of development of the OS and it applications. This approach contrasts greatly with competitors like Microsoft that have a very specific business model concerning upgrades.
"I think that one of the ways Microsoft prints money is they have a lock on users … users want the latest software and they have to pay or it," King said. "Microsoft has a very specialized biz model of creating product and rolling out a new version on very regular cycle and eventually killing products -- which allows the cycle to being again."
With Linux alternatives from Novell, IBM and Mandrakesoft, a customer should not expect such a pattern, which is why many Windows NT users have become such prime candidates for these vendors.
"From everything I've seen and read the last couple months, 2005 is really going to be great year for IT investments," King said. "You have Novell and IBM that are very high profile investors in space themselves, thereby creating a development environment that makes Linux a viable option open to a lot of interesting opportunities for ISVs."