New desktop Linux ready for prime time, claims Novell

15 Nov 2004

Novell has shipped two versions of Linux for desktop users that it hopes will boost take-up of the operating system (OS) among businesses. Novell Linux Desktop 9 for enterprise users has just been released, accompanying a retail version of the operating system, SUSE Linux Professional, already available.

Both come ready to install and include as well as the computer’s operating system (OS), a range of office applications and productivity software such as Open Office, with similar features to tools that Microsoft users would already be familiar with.

Novell claimed that this saves customers money as they don’t need to buy an operating system license and then pay for expensive office applications on top of that, as they would with Windows.

Linux has been growing in popularity as a server operating system but many of its supporters believe it is now a suitable alternative to traditional desktop software. According to Freddie Kavanagh, chief technology officer with Novell EMEA, there are three reasons why Linux is now more mature and ready for wider adoption, particularly among businesses.

Firstly, it has greater support from the independent software community and large vendors such as SAP and Oracle. Secondly, there is a services and technical support ecosystem now in place. Thirdly, the performance of the OS is now improved and offers more scalability, making it more effective in medium and high-end environments.

“Linux has been traditionally deployed at the edge of the enterprise – such as web servers. As the number of vendors and the applications for it have expanded, plus the support and training are better, it’s starting to move to the centre,” said Kavanagh.

He emphasised that this does not signal the end for Microsoft products; instead the entire desktop OS market is more likely to grow overall, with Linux taking a greater share chiefly at the expense of other Unix platforms. A more credible scenario is that organisations will have a mix of OS, dictated by the needs of different users and business processes.

Kavanagh said that Microsoft would continue to see success in the work group where users collaborate between interconnected departments in an organisation and where there is a heavy reliance on data contained in specially written spreadsheets or other proprietary document types. He pointed out, however, that opportunities exist in other areas – such as branch offices – where workers have specific applications on their desktops.

Somewhat confusingly, SUSE Linux Professional is actually a retail Linux version for enthusiasts, home users and newcomers. It will be available in PC stores as well as general outlets such as bookshops. This version has up to 1,000 different applications and programs and, in a demo attended by, was shown to be capable of handling a variety of file types such as a Jpeg image, an MP3 sound file, a PDF document, a zipped file and a presentation. Its enterprise ‘brother’, Novell Linux Desktop, will be scaled down and will not ship with as many applications.

In its launch literature, Novell touted Linux Desktop as “an excellent general-purpose desktop platform”, but drew attention to the fact that the software has been tested successfully with specific customer niches, for example transaction workers such as call centre operators and service counter personnel. The OS is adept in other special-purpose roles such as information kiosks and stations for intermittent PC users. Desktop Linux has also attracted significant interest as a replacement for traditionally high-cost Unix-based technical workstations.

In order to be able to guide organisations on its own migration programmes, Novell has undergone a total change in its own computing infrastructure, as it is moving to using open source programs running Linux. This process has taken place in two stages: this first and hardest was to port all of the applications from proprietary formats to the open standards-based environment.

“In general, the applications on the desktop are more important to the user than the OS,” Kavanagh explained. “If you can get a lot of knowledge workers to migrate to Open Office, then it’s a lot easier to move them to the desktop OS after that.”

He claimed that open source software and Linux in particular was very attractive to IT managers. In particular, Novell expects customers in financial services and in the public sector to be active early adopters because many of these organisations are seeking to avoid single-vendor lock-in of their desktop systems.

“Their dilemma has traditionally been that the shape and timing of IT investments is dictated by the vendor. Choosing open source programs allows for greater flexibility and control of IT purchases,” said Kavanagh.

By Gordon Smith