August 15, 2000
James D. Corder
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SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 13 -- A group of key Linux software developers
and major computer manufacturers are planning to announce on
Tuesday at a Silicon Valley computer conference the first effort
to compete directly with Microsoft's Office suite of applications
for the personal computer.
Until now, the free Linux operating system has had its greatest impact in the computer server market, where many Internet service providers and World Wide Web applications and service companies routinely use the program.
While Linux has gained ground on the PC desktop as an alternative to Microsoft's Windows operating system, which holds a large share of the market, it has not yet been used more widely by businesses and consumers because it has not developed the wide application support enjoyed by both Windows and Apple Computer's Macintosh operating system.
That may soon change. On Tuesday, a group of Linux organizations will announce the creation of the Gnome Foundation, which will have the support of I.B.M., Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and several other major computer vendors.
The foundation plans to announce a set of initiatives, including a unified desktop user interface and a set of productivity programs intended to compete as a free alternative to Microsoft Office.
Gnome is a set of software standards developed by an international group of programmers led by Miguel de Icaza. The Gnome software has been gaining momentum in both the Linux and Unix communities as a way to offer a common software development environment for programmers.
Sun Microsystems also plans to announce that it will adopt the Gnome desktop user interface for its Solaris operating system. The move is part of the Linux effort to create a larger market for application developers.
Last month, the company announced that it was releasing the source code for its StarOffice software, allowing programmers around the world to alter the software and share their work.
The announcements to be made on Tuesday underscore both the progress that Linux has made toward becoming a viable alternative to Windows and the challenges that remain in persuading business and consumer computer users to adopt the free operating system. Until now, the Linux system has had its greatest impact in the server market.
"What they're doing is extremely valuable," said Dan Dusnetzky, a computer industry analyst at the International Data Corporation, a market research firm. "However, there's a bigger issue that has not been addressed yet and that is the availability of the most popular desktop applications on Linux."
While Linux currently has about a 24 percent share of the server market, Microsoft's Windows has an 88 percent share of the desktop PC marketplace, while Apple's Macintosh has a 5 percent share.
Linux developers say that while progress until now has been limited, they are confident they can now rapidly close the gap on Microsoft.
"By the end of the year, we will have a desktop software operating system that compares favorably with Windows," said Mike Boiche, chairman of the Eazel Corporation. The company, founded by former Macintosh programmers, has been developing software called Nautilus, which is being integrated into the Gnome user interface for Linux. It is intended to make Linux as simple to use as Windows or Macintosh.
A variety of announcements intended to consolidate the momentum for the Linux operating system are planned for LinuxWorld, the conference scheduled to begin on Tuesday in San Jose, Calif.
On Friday, Hewlett-Packard said that it planned to make Linux its third "strategic" operating system in addition to Windows and HP-UX, its own version of the Unix operating system.
The Tuesday meeting itself will feature a keynote address by Michael S. Dell, chairman of Dell Computer, and will include an announcement from I.B.M. that it will make a Gnome version of Linux available on its Thinkpad portable computers as a user option.
Compaq is also planning to announce that it will make a version of its hand-held iPaq computer available with the Gnome Linux operating system on Tuesday.
Henzai, a start-up manufacturer of hand-held and Internet computing devices, also plans to announce its support for the Gnome desktop software.
Several executives who support Linux said they now felt confident that the free software world will soon have a direct competitor to Windows on the PC desktop.
"A year ago, we were missing the last mile," said Nat Friedman, president of Helixcode, the Cambridge, Mass., developer of Gnome and a set of PC applications. "But at the end of this year my mom could install Helix Gnome and Sun's StarOffice and have a total office environment."
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