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Engineer's take on Novell's new SuSE desktop, server, Linux roadmap

Novell's new SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 (SLED 10) is beating Microsoft Vista to market by months, and the Xen virtualization features in the upcoming SuSE Enterprise Server are right on target. In short, Novell's Linux roadmap looks great. Now, can Novell get business customers to travel its road?

I was impressed by Novell's Linux strategy, particularly its decision to use a common code base for all supported versions of the operating system. As presented at the annual Novell BrainShare event last week in Salt Lake City, the code base will run across the desktop and server versions. The next release of Novell's premium server product, Open Enterprise (OES), will also be built on the same code base. This approach really makes sense from an overall maintenance and supportability standpoint. Updates to the core operating system and key applications will apply to both server and desktop.

The common code base approach also makes sense from an applications and integration perspective. It is really important for applications like the Beagle search tool. Beagle will function the same way on a server as it will on the desktop.

SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10

The June 2006 release date of SLED 10 gives Novell a lead on Microsoft's Vista, due out at year's end. Vista is Microsoft's first new desktop release in about five years. Novell made the decision to change the name to SLED from the Novell Linux Desktop to draw attention to the enterprise focus of the product.

From the look of SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, it's on par with -- and maybe some steps ahead of -- Mac OS X and Windows Vista.

Novell's ease-of-use focus is obvious in SLED 10's new features, which were created in response to usability research findings reported on Key new features include integrated search using Beagle, the Tomboy note-taking widget and desktop visual effects based on Xgl graphics and Compiz compositing manager.

Desktop administrators and users are going to like SLED 10's new start menu, which includes a search function, one-click access to help, control center, lock screen and logout, and system status information, such as disk space and network status. All search functionality comes from the Beagle tool, which has been deeply integrated into the operating system.

SLED 10 does a much better job integrating with Microsoft networks than the previous version. SLED 10 also has a number of integrated features, like the ZENworks client, AppArmor application security and eDirectory or Microsoft Active Directory support.

OpenOffice 2.0 Novell Edition includes work that Novell did to support Microsoft's Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros. This is a key capability for any organization looking to switch from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice as it now makes it possible to load and use Excel spreadsheets with embedded macros.

Open Enterprise Server

Novell first launched its Open Enterprise Server (OES) in 2005 as a hybrid offering of open source and proprietary code. OES comes in two flavors -- NetWare or Linux. The NetWare offering is based on a NetWare 6.5 with service pack (SP) 3 code base. The Linux version uses SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 with SP3.

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Cypress is the code name for the next release of OES, due out in early 2007. It will have a number of new features targeted at Novell's traditional customer base. One of the key components is the baked-in operating system support for Xen 3.0 virtualization. Server consolidation is one area of keen interest to many enterprise customers and Novell wants to meet those needs with its products.

With the virtualization support comes a new capability called NetWare viX. In a nutshell, it's a Xen-optimized virtual environment for running the NetWare 6.5 kernel aimed at helping customers move to the Linux environment. NetWare viX provides complete backward compatibility for NetWare Loadable Modules (NLMs), NetWare management tools along with support for new hardware.

After Cypress comes Ponderosa, slated for release in early 2008. This version of OES will add new features in the file experience and file lifecycle management arena along with any other updates made to the SuSE Linux code base for hardware support.

Bottom line

Novell made a really tough business decision when it chose to abandon NetWare, the ailing but still popular company cash cow, and hop on the open source train. Many analysts have given the company up for dead and don't see where the revenues will come from in a business model tied to free software.

In my opinion, Novell's products are certainly alive and kicking. The company has the right stuff, and I, for one, hope Novell can get those products into the corporate IT mix. Time is on Novell's side … but will it be enough time?

About the author: Paul Ferrill is a programmer and engineer. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering. By day, he's an engineer for an engineering services company that works primarily in the defense industry. He has also been a programmer for years, writing in many languages including C, C++, Visual Basic, Python and others. Since 1986, Ferrill has written numerous product reviews and articles for IT publications.

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