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Linux aims to divide and conquer the desktop

Is Linux a speed bump or a road block for Windows and other proprietary desktop application suites? This week another salvo in this desktop debate was fired with the release of Novell's Linux Desktop 9, but with a pragmatic approach users may not be used to.

The "Art of War," the oldest military treatise in the world, tells aspiring generals to divide and conquer. For a certain open source operating system, this may be the approach needed to win the inevitable desktop battle.

With the release of Linux Desktop 9, which is powered by SuSE Linux, Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc. has taken a self-described more practical view of how companies should look at open source adoption on the desktop, a view that involves identifying where Linux works best and starting the quest for the desktop there.

"Novell Linux Desktop is not about the wholesale replacement of your Windows systems, but rather it's about identifying where and when an open source desktop can be a sensible, cost-effective alternative," said Jack Messman, Novell chairman and CEO. "In our pragmatic view, the time is now for specific desktop users to reap the benefits of open source."

Indeed, Novell's goal with Linux Desktop is not to supplant Windows completely -- although Novell did not discourage this -- but instead to utilize the various components that are now included with their Linux operating system.

For $50, customers will get the Novell edition of for word processing and spreadsheets; Mozilla Firefox as their web browser; Novell Evolution as their e-mail client; and ZENetworks Linux Management for enterprise-level IT control over software deployment and remote management tasks.

Novell knows it can work well here -- small fights first and gradually build up momentum.
Charles King
Principal AnalystPund-IT Research

The $50 per person charge is for what Novell calls an "entitlement" to use the software; a deal that includes one year of updates and fixes.

For one San Francisco-based analyst, Novell's approach to the desktop is one that is fitting of Linux.

"What impressed me the most is that they are not promoting this as the 'be all end all' for corporations -- they are specifically targeting specific markets," said Pund-IT Research principal analyst Charles King.

In a statement from Novell, the company described the operating system as one that has been in use by a series of beta testers who have implemented Linux in call centers and service counter environments. Other applications of the operating system include information kiosks and stations for intermittent PC users.

"This is a smart thing for them to do as Linux is in a curious place right now with the fact that Microsoft's Longhorn is not arriving for one to two years," King said.

King explained Novell does not have to go out the door with a 'Microsoft-beating' program, all they really need to say is they have provided a solid program that works in certain segments and that they will continue to improve upon it.

"You don't have to beat Microsoft, but you have to go out the door with something that is every bit as good … oh, and by the way it's going to get better – no licensing or update lock-in," King said.

For more information

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King added that Linux has reached a level where it is certainly closer to the "good enough as Microsoft level" and will only get closer behind Novell's strong background in the Linux space.

"The segmented approach – aiming at specific markets – is somewhat in keeping with the tradition of Linux," King said. "It's kind of a religious faith that [Linux] is a replacement for Windows, but its original success was in odd little corners like Web server and email space.

"Novell knows it can work well here -- small fights first and gradually build up momentum," King said.

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