Linus Torvalds has said that he thinks Linux on the desktop is at least five years, maybe 10 years, away. There are many folks who want to prove him wrong, and perhaps that was his impetus. Regardless, for desktop Linux to succeed in the corporate network, vendors must concentrate on management.
The obvious comparisons to Microsoft Windows -- including Active Directory, Group Policy objects, and Microsoft Exchange -- will make key debating points in a migration discussion; for Linux to win, the answers must be solid. Active Directory is simply LDAP with a Redmond flavor, and it is well-integrated into Windows, providing the central directory for entire networks. OpenLDAP on Linux can fulfill these tasks, but adequate management tools must be prevalent, compatible, and included in the OS. This is one area in which I expect Novell to work some magic. As Novell/SuSE integrate SuSE Linux with Novell Network Services, what pops out on the other side will include Novell’s eDirectory, a rebranded RedCarpet management system, and a slew of native Linux management tools.
Beyond the directory lie policies and policy enforcement. Coherent policy creation, deployment, and management tools are of utmost importance to implement and maintain a large-scale desktop Linux infrastructure. Sun Microsystems has the right idea with the Sun Java Desktop System Configuration Manager, providing an open framework for policies to be defined and enforced. More work is needed in this direction, ideally by the OS vendor, but potentially by third-party vendors, such as OpenCountry, that aim to provide policy management frameworks for Linux deployments.
One significant advantage of Linux is the complete malleability of the desktop experience. Every aspect of the desktop can be modified; indeed, any aspect of the overall OS can be modified. There are no significant hurdles to deploying highly customized versions of major distributions if that’s the business requirement. There are definitely environments in production today that rely on a thin layer of Perl and SSH to make policy changes to each desktop, and there are myriad other methods to control and maintain these systems. But RedHat, SuSE, and Xandros must provide these tools, as should any other desktop Linux vendor focusing on the corporate market.
Having an open, centralized, and polished policy management environment with which to make and manage desktop Linux systems is still a ways away, but it is definitely on the horizon.