BRAINSHARE : Novell preps Linux Desktop 10

Linux is ready for the corporate desktop, and the forthcoming version of Novell Inc.’s Linux Desktop offering will go head-to-head against Windows, Novell executives said here in Salt Lake City last week at the company’s annual BrainShare gathering.

Novell is currently developing Linux Desktop 10, which will lift the application suite from its current role targeting specific workgroups to mainstream enterprise deployment, according to Nat Friedman, vice president of desktop and collaboration engineering at Novell.

Currently, Linux on the desktop has been adopted primarily by technology groups and the public sector. “The next release of (Novell) Linux Desktop will be ready to compete with Windows,” Friedman said.

Novell’s Linux Desktop 9 offering includes a desktop operating system, Novell’s edition of office productivity suite, Mozilla Firefox, a multinetwork IM client, Novell Evolution open source collaboration client, and support.

New features in Linux Desktop 10, being piloted now, will include a desktop search feature dubbed Beagle and a desktop note-taking technology called Tomboy. Also planned for the release due next year is F-Spot, a personal photo management application.

Beagle can search documents, e-mail, IMs, Web history, source code, music, PowerPoint, and other applications. A demo of Beagle can be found on Nat Friedman’s blog.

“What (Beagle) does is it indexes everything in your life,” Friedman said.

With Beagle, instant messages, mail, and Web pages viewed can all be filtered by type, he added.

“Microsoft does not have that right now. They have been promising it for some time,” Friedman said.

The Beagle search function, which beats to market Microsoft’s long-promised WinFS search functions, is a clear indication of one of the biggest advantages of open source: the compacted development cycle fueled by the large community of developers, according to Friedman.

“We are outpacing Microsoft on the desktop. The Linux desktop has been in development for less time than Windows and we are already surpassing them,” Friedman said.

F-Spot and Beagle were built using the Mono Project open source development environment. F-Spot was developed by Larry Ewing, the creator of the famous Tux Linux mascot.

F-Spot lets users drag and drop icons, such as people, places, and favorites, onto thumbnail images of the photos, and then sort them. Images can be sorted by date, edited, and exported to a number of different types of Web gallery software, including Flickr, Web Gallery, and Original (Open Remote Image Gallery, Initially Not As Lovely).

Friedman sees F-Spot not only as an interesting application, but also a proof of concept for Mono. “What is interesting about this program … is that it was written by one developer in six months,” he said.

Several of the Linux Desktop 10 features — including Beagle, F-Spot, Tomboy, an Evolution 2.2 plug in, and Mono developer tools — will surface in Suse Linux 9.3, which will be introduced in early April.

Two of the biggest hurdles to wooing users to the Linux desktop are support and applications.

“The biggest challenge “is applications on Windows that don’t exist on Linux,” Friedman said.

The Mono development environment, an open source implementation of the .Net framework, will work toward that end by letting developers create applications to run on Linux.

In addition, Novell is aggressively working to cultivate ISV relationships to get more applications on Linux. Several ISV announcements are expected in the next six months, according to Jeff Allen, product marketing manager for Novell Linux Desktop.

Linux Desktop also includes technical support. Novell also has more than 800 support engineers around the world, Allen said.

“Support is key. Novell is really offering a bigger ecosystem,” Allen said.

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