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Novell: Consumers will lead the way to desktop Linux

Novell Inc. idea man Matt Asay makes predictions about the path of Linux desktop adoption and offers some insights into Novell's desktop Linux strategy.

Adoption of Linux on the desktop may begin in basements and bedrooms throughout the world, and gradually trickle up to large enterprises, says Matt Asay, a Novell Inc. technology evangelist and one of the people behind that company's Linux and open source strategy. recently spoke with Asay about his predictions for the path of Linux desktop adoption. Asay also offered some insights into Novell's desktop Linux strategy. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

Matt Asay
Matt Asay

I've heard that Novell and other Linux vendors are treading very cautiously in area of desktop Linux because they don't want to get ahead of demand. Do you agree with that?

Matt Asay: I can't speak for Red Hat, but I can say that I don't think that Novell is treading all that cautiously. I've traditionally been a (Macintosh) guy and right now I'm looking at a Linux desktop in front of me, which was very painful at first. But Novell has rolled out the Linux desktop 100% internally. Everybody uses it and in that process we're kind of finding where the bugs are and whatnot, and we're aggressively pushing it out to the market.

Do you see the world warming up to desktop Linux?

Asay: By the time the world is ready to adopt the Linux desktop, it may not matter because more and more of the applications that we care about run in a browser and it doesn't matter whether that browser is running on Linux or MacOS 10 or Windows. A browser is a browser is a browser.

Are you referring to desktop Linux adoption by individual consumers or businesses?

Asay: I'm speaking more about the consumer market right now and less about the enterprise because in the enterprise there is always going to be the need for the productivity suite like Microsoft Office or OpenOffice. But I do think that consumers are going to adopt desktop Linux first, probably not enterprises. That's going to feed that market for Novell and others to go in and sell to the enterprise once consumers are comfortable with this Linux desktop.

Do you think desktop Linux is more suitable for smaller organizations?

Asay: Again, I think it's actually going to start with consumers first. I think it's going to happen outside the United States. Then the next step is probably not going to be the enterprise, it's going to be the SMB space. Those consumers will go to their jobs, running small businesses, and they're going to take their computers there and use them there. I do think it has more promise initially in the SMB space if for no other reason than the demands are somewhat less. The software is already there. Frankly, the software is already there for the enterprise as well, but enterprises are conservative and move at glacial speeds. The SMB market is a little bit less like that. If they know it works, they have fewer inhibitions about putting it to work in their business if they know it works at home.

When it comes to Linux, either on the desktop or in general, what do you think will be the next major focus area for vendors?

Asay: A lot of it is going to be about the management tools around Linux. I just think that generally systems management is an area ripe for Linux. Right now with Linux, the stability and the core functionality as been at par or ahead of its competitors for several years. But where it hasn't been as good is in the area of usability. A lot of what I'm looking forward to seeing is any companies that are helping to make Linux easier to use.

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