Dell hopes to push the open source Linux operating system into the corporate desktop environment using virtualization so alternative Linux operating systems can more easily be run alongside Windows systems from Microsoft.
Dell's chief technology officer, Kevin Kettler detailed Dell's still-in-development Linux desktop strategy during a keynote address Tuesday at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco.
Kettler demonstrated to his audience at the Moscone Center convention site how Windows and Linux could run on the same desktop using an open source hypervisor. He switched from running Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, Windows Vista and XP and a Mozilla Firefox Web browser on a Dell XPS notebook computer.
"I envision in the future clients having eight or nine operating systems on them that are all virtualized," he said. "I think the Linux community is poised to be innovative and to create these virtual machine environments more than anyone else can today."
Dell's virtualization news comes alongside news of its plans to ship Dell desktop and notebook computers with the open source Ubuntu Linux operating system in Europe. Other Dell models have been available with Ubuntu in the U.S. since May.
Embracing Linux on the desktop is a reflection of the maturing of Linux as an alternative to Windows, said Charles King, of Pund-IT, a technology research firm.
Dell's relationship with the open source community has been "complex," King wrote in a report Wednesday. Although Dell has long supported Linux on servers, its lack of a Linux desktop strategy has been taken by open source enthusiasts as "an affront."
"The absence of Linux-based Dell desktop systems simply reflected a general absence of enthusiasm for such products in the broader marketplace," King wrote. What has changed now is that Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu's, have become more mature and user friendly, making them a more viable alternative to Windows.
Kettler acknowledged as much, saying Dell seeks to overcome enterprise customer reluctance to bring Linux and virtualization to the desktop level.
"It really boils down to why are CIOs apprehensive about deploying Linux in the mission-critical desktops environment? I think virtualization can help to [ease] those CIOs' apprehension," Kettler said.