No Consumer Linux from Novell or Red Hat

There are a lot of flavors of Linux on the market, each with its own unique features and quirks. Businesses are usually willing to pony up for one of the "Big Two": Red Hat or Novell/Suse. Regular folks, on the other hand, are more likely to download one of the free alternatives.

Do you smell a market opportunity? Not Red Hat or Novell. Each company independently confirmed this week that you may as well keep those BitTorrent clients running: Neither Red Hat nor Novell has any plans to market a consumer desktop Linux product in the near future.

According to Red Hat, "The desktop market suffers from having one dominant vendor" -- who could that be? -- "and some people still perceive that today's Linux desktops simply don't provide a practical alternative." Rather than fight the battle of public perception, Red Hat prefers to concentrate on developing client systems to complement its server OS offerings.

As it turns out, Red Hat's top rival, Novell, is in total agreement. During a tour of the company's new engineering center in India, CEO Ron Hovsepian said, "The market for the desktop for the next three to five years is mainly enterprise-related."

Novell maintains the OpenSuse project, a community-developed version of Suse Linux that consumers can download for free. But its more polished, commercial desktop product remains strictly enterprise-focused.

Says Red Hat, "Building a sustainable business around the Linux desktop is tough, and history is littered with example efforts that have either failed outright, are stalled or are run as charities." So what's an ordinary consumer to do?

One option is to go with one of the charities. My own favorite desktop Linux, Ubuntu, owes its existence primarily to the largess of Internet billionaire Mark Shuttleworth. The final release of the new version is due to ship in about a week.

The other option is to wait out the next three to five years -- by which time Novell might actually be prepared to address the market. Window Vista, anyone?