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Nat Friedman: Swing toward desktop virtualization favors Linux

In the past six months, every single IT exec or manager who discusses Linux desktops in a corporate setting with Nat Friedman asks about thin-client enviroments. That’s why Friedman — co-creator of the open source Ximian desktop and open source strategies CTO for Novell — predicts that desktop virtualization is going to take off faster than anyone has anticipated, and Linux desktops adoption is going to increase rapidly as a result.

“The pendulum is swinging back, and there’s an interest and need to centralize data for security reasons. IT managers and corporate execs don’t want people to walk out with laptops holding, say, millions of Social Security numbers.

Centralizing desktop management via virtualization and thin clients holds the much-desired promise of easier management, Friedman told me in a recent conversation.

There’s a desire to have lower-cost manageability by having all your applications running centrally and making thin clients into dumb terminals. Virtualization plays a role there, because on the server you could host thousands of desktops and virtualize those sessions so they’re all isolated from one another and run on an operating system that’s transparent to users. Or, you can use multiple desktop apps running on multiple operating systems. You can have computers running OpenOffice, Firefox, Microsoft apps and so on all this playing onto a single thin client. Virtualization makes it possible to dynamically allocate the resources for that. The desktop itself running virtualization locally developers do that. If you run Linux primarily and you want to run Windows for one app, virtualization is one way to get at that.”

In a virtual desktop setting, Friedman concludes, IT managers will be able to choose best-of-breed, easiest-to-manage and lowest-cost applications and operating systems. He thinks Linux and the desktop applications that run on that platform will gain from this interoperability.

I agree with Friedman’s views on how quickly desktop virtualization will be adopted. My team has been surprised by the number of IT managers who’ve expressed keen interest in moving forward with projects. I do think Linux will gain some users from this trend, but I think the key stumbling block will be getting IT shops to evaluate Linux-based desktop apps in the first place. Historically, they’ve taken the easy route, Windows and Microsoft apps.

What do you think? Let me know via your comments or an email to me at

For more of Friedman’s views on the desktop marketplace, check out this post on

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Our Germany-based SME company with ca. 10 desktops historically always have been a Windows-only shop. However, we want to migrate to GNU/Linux this year. Therefor I'm looking for solutions which would support this migration, especially with desktop virtualization and a more centralized management (users, applications, scalability). I'm sure that this will cut our administration costs (which are far away from optimal) and some really awkward security concerns we have with Windows. Unfortunately, this will not be a full migration at start. The office desktops are not the problem (just the typical stuff which is way no problem on modern Linux distributions). However, we are facing difficulties on our CAD/CAM workstations where especially the 3D applications are pretty picky on which Windows version with which SP, DLL, graphic cards, drivers / driver versions, and configuration they will run on which not. It seems that the virtual drivers of virtual host systems are not fit yet to fulfill these requirements. Finally, we found a potential solution, where KDE-based desktops from the virtualization server can be delivered in parts or complete to the CAD/CAM workstations so their users would have the chance to be integrated in the other work-flows. However, this is a sub-optimal solution and I hope that CAD/CAM software vendors will re-evaluate their platform strategy soon.