Sun’s Linux Desktop – Amy Wohl

Writes Amy Wohl [blog, website] – I have reproduced the entire newsletter because I couldn’t find it online yet:

So Sun announced its Project MadHatter, alternative choices for desktop users, especially for those in cost conscious environments where users live mainly in a browser and email environment.

Sun will be offering users two new choices for desktop hardware and software:

(1) A SunRay thin client workstation, with a Mozilla browser and Gnome interface, running server-based software to deliver email and calendaring
function via an Outlook lookalike (Evolution) and the portal version of Sun’s StarOffice personal productivity office suite.

(2) A white box Linux PC (OEM vendor to be announced), with the same
capabilities, but with the additional ability to run unconnected and a local copy of StarOffice. Sun intends to sell these in bundles of 100, with their own server, pre-loaded with email, calendaring, portal, and identity software.

Both SunRays and Linux PC’s will be personalized and accessed via a Sun JavaCard (smart card), that not only identifies the user, but also provides the state in which his computer was last used.

Sun is bringing these new offerings to market because it believes that clients want them. They are looking, Sun believes, for an alternative to Microsoft’s Software Assurance subscription licensing plan, a desktop that’s easier and cheaper to manage, and help in dealing with an increasingly mobile workforce.

Sun claims that only 12% of customers it surveyed can afford to migrate to
Microsoft’s Word XP and that 90% expect licenses to continue to increase in
cost. A very respectable 38% are considering alternative products and Sun
wants its chance at that alternative market. Sun says more than 10,000 enterprises are already evaluating its StarOffice software.

Sun admits it won’t be easy to get users who are accustomed to a big PC and
Microsoft’s familiar Office software to change and it isn’t going to try. Instead it will go around heavy personal productivity users and aim at cost or security sensitive environments such as call centers, payroll processing, back offices, and reservation systems. Academic environments and government workers also look like good candidates. Sun believes it can also have a good chance in the countries that are interested in Linux and/or Open Source alternatives, sometimes by government mandate, such as Peru, Brazil, the UK, Germany, and China.

Sun Rays, of course, are available right now, but Sun isn’t ready to deliver its new Mad Hatter software just yet. It estimates that the Sun Ray version
will be available for customers and partners to visit at iForce centers within 60 days and available sometime shortly thereafter. The Linux PC’s should be ready by the first quarter of 2003.

Prices have not been announced – and Sun is being coy about them – but expect low numbers. Sun says they will come in at half the cost and one-quarter the TCO of current solutions. They believe the Linux PC, for example, will cost about $50 per user per month, including an administer per 100 users, over a five year period.

We expect to see lots of Portal vendors come up with integrated desktop solutions that include lightweight editors, calendaring, and other personal
tools. We’re not sure that they will see the need to include devices, since
in corporate America nearly every user has a desktop device already and
replacements are readily available at commodity prices. Sun points out
their value will be in the integration of software and hardware, but if
portal vendors integrate their software into the portal, this could be an
appropriate competitive alternative.

I wrote about Sun’s missed opportunity yesterday. A few comments on what Amy has written:

– StarOffice (or OpenOffice) is better run on the server. We use OpenOffice on the server and its very fast (in a Thin Client-Thick Server architecture). StarOffice can become slow on the desktop, especially for some of the older machines.

– Sun should have focused on leveraging the existing computer in the world, rather than coming up with Yet Another Computer offering. PCs are a commodity game. Agreed, there are some value-adds like the smart cards for user identification and bringing up the desktop, but the additional cost is probably not worth it.

– Sun’s primary focus should be on the new users, the new markets. At present, most of these are still after-thoughts. Go after the mainstream (corporate) users in countries like India, China, Brazil, etc. It should have looked at building out the next-generation of computing.

– One needs to leverage the existing and older computers in the world. There are 500 million of them already, growing at 135 million a year. As users in the developed markets upgrade, shift these PCs to the developing markets and create value through software.

– The monthly cost of USD 50 for the full solution is still too high. It needs to – and can be – a third of that or less. USD 150 per year is, according to me, the mass market adoption level. At that price point, it is as inexpensive as a cellphone.

– Value-addition on the desktop can be through new publishing, knowledge sharing and collaboration applications in the form of digital dashboards, weblogs, RSS aggregators, K-logs, etc.

– In essence, rather than use old software on new hardware (as Sun is looking to do), we need to think of using new software on old hardware.


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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.