November 8, 2004

Novell launches an enterprise Linux desktop

Author: Joe Barr

Novell is announcing a new Linux desktop today, called "Novell Linux Desktop 9: Powered by SUSE Linux." Truth be told, they've been privately announcing the product for at least the past week, doing presentations all over the country while trying to woo both customers and the press. It was in the latter regard that NewsForge spoke on Friday with Ted Haeger, Director Of Marketing for the Novell Linux Desktop. We're offering more coverage of this announcement than we normally do for press releases because this particular announcement could be critical to the advance of Linux on the desktop.

The new limited distribution is priced right: only $50.00 per seat. But you won't be able to rush down to CompUSA and find it on the shelf. It is not a retail product. Those who do resell Novell Linux Desktop 9 (NLD-9 for brevity's sake) will also want to sell you service and support. The target market is the medium and large business arena.

Haeger explained that Novell sees Linux in four major markets: data center, high performance computing, workgroups, and workstations. NLD-9 represents Novell's assault on the workstation segment, which over time will include the desktop.

Novell describes NLD-9 as a complete "desktop productivity environment." It includes a complete set of the basic applications enterprise workers need: an office suite, a mail suite, and browser. Novell has tweaked OpenOffice.org to fill the office suite chores, Evolution as its mail suite, and Mozilla Firefox for the browser. That's not all that's included, of course, but those are the big three items required for basic desktop chores. It's called NLD version 9 because it is built atop SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9. That gives it a degree of hardening, reliability, and performance that is hard for other distributions to match.

Novell has done a lot of work to make NLD 9 present a uniform interface to the user across the desktop and the applications. They've also done some things to make it get along better with Windows. Font matching technologies in NLD 9 will give users better compatibility with MS Word documents. The inclusion of Ximian Connector allows them to collaborate easily with co-workers on the same MS Exchange server. The mailmerge feature in OpenOffice.org can use Evolution's contact list as a database. And finally, the theming of the desktop extends to the major applications, so that even the icons used are consistant from app to app to desktop.

Haeger stressed that they don't believe Linux is quite ready to replace all Windows desktops, primarily because of missing apps. They are not trying to take over the desktop market with NLD 9, just get into it. Not for another couple of years, at least.

But there are a couple of other interesting things about NLD-9 beyond what you'll read in the press release today. Branding, for one. Corporate IT glass room appeal for another. Here's what we learned about those issues while speaking to Haeger.

Branding

I noted a shift in branding in a recent review of SUSE Professional 9.2. In NLD-9, SUSE has been further demoted to a "based upon" role. I asked Haeger if we were going to see the SUSE and Ximian brands disappear completely.

He said Novell felt the Ximian name did not have that much recognition in the industry, and in fact the guys that founded Ximian -- Nat Friedman and Miguel De Icaza -- have as much of a name as the company did. In short, the Ximian name is being retired. It's now Novell Evolution, not Ximian Evolution. But he said, "SUSE is a very different situation." So the SUSE name will not be going away any time soon.

In the glass room

Savvy IT managers in the data center have always been willing to let others "break in" the latest release of MVS or whatever operating system was being run. They preferred to stay at least one off the latest version. This to ensure they were running the most robust release. Novell is doing the same thing with NLD-9. Yes, it's the 2.6 kernel, but it's 2.6.5, not 2.6.8 like SUSE Professional 9.2, which was released last week.

They also like strong service and support for the software they use. Novell brings a lot of proven data center and enterprise expertise to the game. As Haeger pointed out, Novell has more data center experience than does Microsoft.

Conclusion

NLD-9 appears on the surface to be more focused on the enterprise desktop than any other distribution. It will have to compete with Sun's Java Desktop, Red Hat's workstation product, and of course, Microsoft's Windows. The focus is also on getting positive results from the first adopters. Haeger said Novell will go to great lengths to ensure they are successful.

But the real significance of NLD-9 is not that it's the first Linux product to focus on the corporate desktop, but rather that it's the first Linux distribution from a vendor who has long been -- and still is -- a player in the Windows PC software world. NLD-9 is not so much an attack on the Windows desktop launched by barbarians storming Gates, as it is an internal rebellion. A professionally organized rebellion making a real attempt to sluff off the mantle of monopoly which weighs its customers down with high prices, poor security, and a completely unmerited arrogance. It's going to be an interesting next few years on the desktop.

Category:

  • Linux
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