February 23, 2006

Novell's most-wanted list of Linux applications

Author: Stephen Feller

As Linux use continues to grow, requests for popular applications on the operating system continue to grow as well -- requests that mostly go unanswered by vendors of those software. Last month Novell posted a survey to find out what applications Linux users want most. After three weeks, the company released the top 10 applications users requested. The list is a mix of the usual suspects and a couple of surprises.

Scott Morris, Novell Cool Solutions Linux community editor, says the data suggests users are satisfied with the Linux email, word processing, spreadsheet, and Web browsing applications already available. He says that the requested programs are mostly in areas of multimedia. "Linux sometimes has a reputation for being a little difficult to use or not [being] ready for the desktop," Morris says, "but what these numbers clearly show is that all of the basic needs of the users are being met. Tasks that are generally used on the desktop are being taken care of."

Richard Holder, a manager in the global partner and channel marketing division at Novell, says the survey started with the company contacting its customers to find out what they want on the Linux platform that is not already available. After they received more than a thousand suggestions for applications, Holder says "the next logical step was to go out to the greater community and find out" what they would like to see ported to the operating system.

As Novell continues to gather data, Holder says the company is contacting vendors behind software mentioned in the survey to gain information on whether their products might eventually be ported to Linux. "This is a way to have a voice, with ours, at that particular vendor," he says.

Responding to Linux users

Top 10 most-requested applications
Intuit Quickbooks
Autodesk Autocad
Adobe Photoshop
Apple iTunes
Microsoft Visio
Lotus Notes
Intuit Quicken
Sage Software Act!

The vendors whose products showed up among the top 10 have are taking different approaches to Linux.

IBM has long been involved with both Linux and the open source software community, with releases and project announcements coming from the company on an almost regular basis, but its Notes client has not yet made it to the Linux platform. The application offers personal information management tools and email and calendar clients, among others, for IBM's Domino line of server products, which can run on Linux.

With Notes unavailable to natively run on Linux, customers have until now had access to a plugin allowing it to run in a Linux environment. According to Notes product manager Heidi Votaw, the company has been doing internal beta testing of Notes for Linux, as well as selecting customers to participate in another limited beta test. She says IBM expects a public release of the beta to come sometime in the second quarter of this year.

Many customers also had been using Notes to build collaborative applications which they then run on Linux servers, even though Notes itself cannot run on Linux clients, says Rob Ingram, product manager for Domino at IBM.

By contrast, Adobe says demand for its products on Linux is not strong enough for it to act upon, although the company is aware of customer's desires for Linux versions. Pam Deziel, director of platform strategy for Adobe, says that Novell's survey is in line with the company's own internal data. She says that, of Adobe's products, Photoshop is the most requested application for Linux, with Acrobat coming in at a close second. And although she says Adobe does not comment on unannounced products -- and could not reveal whether any of its products are currently being ported to Linux -- Deziel says that the company is "paying attention to the Linux platform" in its server products, more than in its client software.

"It's an area that we continue to monitor," Deziel says. "We make product decisions based on the vector that we see.... [But] we haven't found sufficient business opportunity for offering desktop applications on the Linux platform."

Best for everybody?

IBM's Ingram says it is significant that enterprises are moving to Linux because it shows they want choice. And while the move is already significant for many enterprises, he says that if the applications organizations use are available on Linux, it could ease concerns about such moves and motivate more to follow suit.

"Customers have invested training and infrastructure around those software," Ingram says. "They like the idea of not being tied to the Windows operating system [but] it's important to them ... not to interrupt the applications they already use."

Novell's Holder says he realizes that significant work could be required of vendors to make their applications available on Linux, because some of the software on Novell's list has large code bases and could require a lot of work to port over.

Although some vendors, such as Adobe, take a Linux-agnostic point of view, the more customers that demand applications be available on Linux, the better chance there is of it actually happening.

Novell has no plans to discontinue the survey, Holder says. "This is the second wave [of the survey] to make sure that we're targeting the right companies and demand from our customers," Holder says. "We're gratified that the community will respond to requests for their needs. This growing communication will help everybody."


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