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Red Hat Summit: ...But They'll Sell a Desktop Anyway

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Red Hat psyched out the press corps a bit, delaying questions about their online desktop strategy until a second press conference at noon, local time. There, we thought we would get the skinny on this new "online desktop" model.

Would that this were true.

Capitalizing on a pre-existing channel in developing nations, Red Hat instead announced their new Global Desktop program, geared to deploy on Intel's Classmate, Affordable, Community, and Low-Cost PC product line.

The Global Desktop, coming out in June, will not be marketed as a separate software product. Rather, Red Hat defines it as a combined hardware/software answer to a problem for systems builders in these nations who can't afford a Windows-based solution. The product, fully certified for these Intel PCs, can be loaded by Intel systems builders and resellers to meet client needs, according to Gerry Riveros, Product Marketing Manager.

By being certified for just these Intel PCs, Red Hat takes advantage of Intel's very strong channel in these nations, and hedges its bets against these low-cost Intel PC's competitive position against the One Laptop Per Child project, which Red Hat is also heavily invested.

This offering is not an OEM--Intel isn't going to preload these low-end PCs with Red Hat. Nor is this going to be another machine with the Sugar interface, like the OLPC's X0 device. It will be up to the Intel system builders to get it installed and sell it, and it will look and feel like a stripped-down Red Hat desktop.

By launching this program, Red Hat also neatly sidesteps another barrier to desktop deployment: support. It will be the systems builders that will bear the brunt of the support issues, and what support that does move up the stream to Red Hat will be coming from homogenized, certified Intel PC platforms—so no weird hardware support issues.

What was really interesting was this announcement came literally hours after Red Hat made statements about a dead client paradigm: that online software services would be the answer. And yet, here they were marketing a traditional client to developing nations.

Riveros made it clear that this would be an evolving desktop solution, and many of the client ideas that Red Hat would be moving towards would end up in the Global Desktop, eventually. The product's two-year support cycle will ensure faster rev times.

It will be interesting to see if this will work, because even Red Hat acknowledges that there's already demand for this kind of hardware-certified solution in the US and Europe, particularly in the small- to medium sized business space. But, let's face it--there's no ready-made hardware/distribution channel in SMB yet, and there is this one all set and rarin' to go in the developing nations.

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