Red Hat has laid out its desktop strategy, which includes versions of the Linux operating system for emerging markets, enterprise customers and inexpensive laptops, along with a virtualisation technology to support desktop security and management.

At its annual summit, the Linux vendor unveiled its Red Hat Global Desktop, an operating system developed in conjunction with Intel that’s designed to run on inexpensive hardware and is targeted at small businesses and governments in emerging markets.

Intel plans to support the software on its current and future desktop platforms, including the Classmate, Affordable, Community and Low-Cost PC lines.

Red Hat said Global Desktop, which is slated to be available next month, rounds out its three-pronged desktop strategy that includes the March release of its Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 and a version of Red Hat Linux that runs on the One Laptop Per Child machines designed for developing countries.

“What you see is three different and significant client offerings for three different and diverse markets,” said Scott Crawford, vice president of the enterprise Linux platform business at Red Hat. Crawford said the goal is not to deliver Linux as a “me too” product with regard to Windows. “This is a focus on finding a place where open source and Linux can make a difference,” he said.

While Red Hat is focusing on its client strategy, observers say there is no doubt that the company is a server-software provider first and foremost.

“Red Hat is building off what they are doing with the One Laptop Per Child people,” says Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata. “They get mindshare as this global Linux supplier in developing countries.” While Haff notes that Red Hat certainly has some altruistic intentions, he says the number of client announcements by Red Hat is about “global brand visibility. They don’t have as strong a brand in many areas of the world as they do in the United States.”

In addition to the Global Desktop, Red Hat said that it is developing a virtualisation technology for Intel vPro desktops that supports numerous virtual appliances running on the desktop alongside the operating system that provide security services and platform management. Continued

Earlier in the day, the company also announced a deal with IBM to deploy Red Hat Linux on IBM’s System z mainframes. Red Hat calls the technology the Virtual Appliance OS. The technology was developed in conjunction with Intel.

The idea is that anti-virus and system-monitoring services should not run on the operating system but as separate virtual appliances on the desktop and work in conjunction with the operating system.

“Historically, the bonding between the hardware and the applications happened at the operating-system level,” says Crawford. Red Hat believes that bonding creates security and management problems. “We are changing the binding. The binding is between the operating system and the virtualisation foundation.”

Red Hat plans to deliver hypervisor virtualisation support, a Virtual Service OS, a software developers kit, and support services to back development of software for the Virtual Appliance platform.

Crawford would not provide specifics on the types of security and management software that would be made available, but he said announcements were forthcoming over the next few weeks and months. “You should think about security issues related to antivirus, spyware, things like that. And systems management, provisioning, monitoring support, things like that,” he said.

He said the operating system and the virtualisation layer would act as peers. “The beauty of the Virtual Appliance is that all the I/O goes through the virtual machine foundation. The result is that the entire I/O stream can be viewed and checked by the security and management appliances before it ever gets to the operating system,” said Crawford. He says the architecture will prevent viruses from getting to the operating system, but if the user does install malware, the Virtual Appliance can keep it from getting out onto the network.

A beta version of the Virtual Appliance OS is slated to ship later this year, and final release is expected in 2008.