Linux looking familiar for Windows users

A good product may not necessarily translate to a bigger market share and oftentimes, strong branding is the name of the game.

That is what open-source software developer Novell Inc. has to contend with as it tries to break into the corporate market with recently released SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 (SLED 10).

Perception among the enterprise audience is a “big, big issue” and one that Novell has to address if it’s to get the Windows-dominated user population to at least take a good look at what Linux has to offer as an alternative, particularly in the desktop space, said Warren Shiau, senior associate at Toronto-based market research firm The Strategic Counsel.

Novell Canada chief technology officer Ross Chevalier recently conducted a media demonstration of SLED 10, stressing the product’s “usability” features. Chevalier also demonstrated how SLED 10 offers greater compatibility and integration with various Windows business applications.

SLED 10 comes with a number of open source-based applications, including Novell’s edition of 2.0, Firefox Web browser, Gaim for instant messaging, Novell’s collaboration tool called Evolution, photo and music management software and other business tools.

“With SLED, our goal is to be so user-centric that it’s functional,” said Chevalier. “We leverage the power of open source computing to include applications for doing day-to-day [business activities.]”

Shiau said with its latest SUSE Linux desktop version, Novell has made significant improvements in terms of the “look and feel” factor that could have a positive effect on users’ and administrators’ willingness to evaluate the open source-based product.

“[SLED 10] is the best chance yet that [Novell] has to increase [Linux’s market share],” he said. Enterprise environments would typically be running Linux on less than one per cent of their fleet of desktops, Shiau said. IDC Canada is showing positive growth for the Linux desktop.

The number of Canadian organizations that have some level of Linux penetration on the desktop grew from 12 per cent in 2005 to 16 per cent in 2006, according to David Senf, IDC Canada’s manager for software research.

In increasing that slice of the enterprise pie, the challenge for Novell is to get users to evaluate SLED 10. And that may not be as easy as it sounds, especially when the company is faced with competitors that enjoy strong brand name recognition like Microsoft and Apple, said Shiau.

While Novell may have to consistently establish its corporate brand — especially to non-Novell customers — to develop market perception that hopefully leads to recognition of its SUSE Linux suite, Microsoft and Apple would not necessarily need to do that, explained Shiau. “The Apple (brand) is perceived as cool, and everyone knows Microsoft.”

Novell is undertaking an ongoing evaluation program to increase awareness of its SUSE line, said Novell’s Chevalier.

Des Dougan, director of information and computing services at Vancouver Community College, is evaluating SLED 10 and said he is looking forward to pilot-testing the Linux desktop product with some of his end-users.

“[SLED 10] is much more solid as a desktop for non-technical users and that is very positive,” Dougan said.

And while he, a long-time Linux user, found SLED 10 to be a big improvement to previous Linux desktop products, Dougan hopes the end-user pilot will determine its usability from the perspective of a non-technical desktop user.

“People are generally weary of change, so…it has to be effectively indistinguishable from what the users were used to,” he said. Dougan wants to see his company go down the path of greater Linux desktop adoption so it can better manage its costs.

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