Novell pushes Linux to the desktop

While Novell Inc. hopes that its new enterprise Linux desktop product will be enough to entice enterprises to view desktop Linux as a viable alternative to Windows, some analysts aren’t so sure.

“I don’t expect this or any other point distribution release to significantly accelerate desktop Linux adoption,” said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata. “Desktop Linux uptake is controlled far more by broad issues like application availability on Linux rather than micro-features present or absent in a given version of Suse or Red Hat.”

That said, industry observers do note that updates to the Novell Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 – which is scheduled to be released this summer – are important steps in making the open source operating system a viable alternative in corporate environments.

Announced earlier this month at the annual Cebit conference in Hanover, Germany, the Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 features an improved user interface along with an integrated desktop search tool called Beagle. The updated version of the OpenOffice suite addresses many Windows compatibility concerns, such as support for Visual Basic macros which enables users to open and save Excel pivot tables and spreadsheets within In addition, the new offering will provide enhanced support for standard network and printing protocols to provide plug-and-play compatibility for external devices and easy connectivity to third-party systems such as Active Directory and Microsoft Exchange.

Warren Shiau, lead analyst for IT research at The Strategic Counsel in Toronto, noted that the Linux kernel for the new desktop offering is the same as Novell’s server OS, which is a good move for the firm.

Corporate buyers may take a look, but Novell and other Linux desktop distributors such as Red Hat have a tough road ahead of them, particularly as these vendors are contending in a market where Microsoft holds a more than 90 per cent share. Thoughout the years, Linux desktops have improved in terms of Windows compatibility, making them more appealing to certain organizations, Shiau said.

The new Linux desktop is an alternative — and not necessarily a replacement for — the traditional Windows enterprise environment, said Ross Chevalier, chief technology officer of Novell Canada. In Europe, organizations are a lot more open to desktop Linux in a corporate environment, but more North American companies are becoming receptive to the idea, Chevalier said, adding that in Canada, Novell has been conducting “roadmap reviews” with enterprises to show the viability of Linux on the enterprise desktop.

“We’re targeting specifically the business desktop user, the Windows user. The customization of the (Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10) user interface is such that a Windows user…could sit down and get his or her job done,” Chevalier said.

When it comes to Linux desktops in the past, it has largely has been adopted in niche desktop deployments primarily for transactional workers in retail locations or call centres, for example, who use just one or two applications daily. “It’s an intelligent alternative…in some organizations it’s made huge sense,” Chevalier said. Novell is positioning the product — which the company plans to release around the same time as the next version of the Suse Linux Enterprise Server 10 operating system — as the first Linux desktop product appropriate for workers who need access to a variety of applications and data types.

For example, users familiar with the Internet Explorer browser, he added, should have no issues with switching over to the default Firefox Web browser. As well, the desktop product is integrated with Novell ZENworks Linux Manage

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