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Sun Rising on JDS

While writing Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop for O'Reilly & Sons, Sam Hiser and Tom Adelstein realized that Sun's Java Desktop System (JDS) was underrated by many desktop users. And even its creators. So to try and garner some industry-wide JDS respect, the authors Monday launched JDShelp.org.

"We were monitoring the Sun JDS forum and saw that there were users of the software that were outside the scope of what Sun's enterprise distribution and support channels are designed to accommodate," said Hiser. "Sun's documentation was not so great; it was the typical rush job to do the software, and they didn't document it so completely," Hiser said. "Also, their documentation seems to be written for each other, not for your mom."

JDS 2.0 is Sun's answer to the enterprise Linux desktop, competing for market and mind share with the GNOME and KDE projects; all three are seeking Windows converts. JDS includes the GNOME desktop, StarOffice application suite, the Evolution e-mail and calendar client, the Mozilla Web browser and Java 2 Standard Edition for developers.

Despite much fanfare from Sun executives, JDS has been met with underwhelming support in the Linux community. Primarily designed for the business user, it has been attracting consumer types, folks who received little attention from Sun officials.

The biggest knock against JDS is its use of stable versions of Linux code to run their platform. Hiser said Linux users want the latest versions of software applications running on the JDS, which is designed more for corporate use.

"In some cases, you see this sniping by the open source people, 'oh, it's old stuff, it's no good.' But what they don't realize is that [JDS] was made for the enterprise -- where you're not supposed to break, you're not supposed to fail," Hiser said. "Also, the code libraries have stopped changing. That's the key. So that if there are vulnerabilities, Sun can just send a patch."

For example, GAIM, the Linux instant messaging client on JDS 2.0, runs version .70, even though a more recent addition, .79, adds key support for MSN and Yahoo Instant Messenger.

Nor does JDS support the Linux driver for Winmodems. As an enterprise system, Sun officials don't expect many companies to need dial-up modem support, so they've left it out of the final product with no future plans to incorporate the driver.

To address these issues, the site features the basic help you'd find at many community sites -- news, "howto's," links to the JDS forums and resource links. It also includes such items as online tutorials for "newbies" and the latest Red Hat Package Managers (RPM) of Linux-based applications. RPMs are the designated install tools for software packages on the Linux Standard Base version 1.0.

Hiser said volunteers monitor the site, but he doesn't rule out the possibility of making money from it in the future. Down the road, and depending on the interest level the site generates, Hiser said they might start a paid services and support program, or professional open source.

Hiser noted that many of the Linux distributors, while they may have begun their existence as a consumer friendly organization, have turned corporate in their structure -- if only from a pricing standpoint.

Enterprise editions of Red Hat , once the standard-bearer for enterprise-quality Linux in the open source community, sells its first 10 seats for $2,500 (single licenses are unavailable); SuSE, Novell's Linux distro, costs nearly $600 a seat, he said. JDS, on the other hand, currently costs $25 for a business user and $50 for an individual user, Hiser said.