Red Hat's Enterprise Linux has taken a big step towards corporate legitimacy today, claimed Red Hat president and CEO Matthew Szulik.

Announcing the launch of the company's strategy to supply Red Hat Linux as a desktop service to enterprises, Szulik said that Red Hat Desktop will consist of Enterprise Linux plus a bundle including OpenOffice and the Mozilla browser.

He said users would find it was Web-based and would cost their employers from $5 per month. "Our customers are asking for thin client capability", he said.

Benefits including security and manageability, said Szulik, adding that Linux was more secure than Windows because of the sheer number of extra eyeballs scrutinising the code, the documented speed with which Red Hat has managed to distribute patches and security fixes and - because Linux desktops are less homogenous than Windows - its vulnerability is much less than the Redmond product.

In terms of distribution, Szulik said that the product was not a retail box selling for $29 in high street stores. Instead, it would be available electronically and through major hardware vendors such as IBM, HP and Dell, with whom the company is in talks about pre-loading. Szulik said he expected the product to be available for download by 15 May 2004, with the hardware vendors making it available within the next 12-18 months.

Szulik said: "It's time for a change. Microsoft's competitors have tried to win by adding functionality - for example, Borland, Lotus and Corel. They're all gone. Now, with a major hardware refresh cycle underway, this is a great opportunity."

RedMonk's principal analyst James Governor said: " Yes, people want to move on - the fact that they've paid for Microsoft upgrades but aren't using them shows a lack of confidence in Microsoft. But where's the OEM? [Red Hat's move] will become real when Dell says they're ready to pre-load because it's easy for them to do."

Red Hat also announced a partnership with embedded OS vendor Wind River "to jointly pursue the device market with a standard open source platform".