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Dissecting BrainShare: The corporate desktop battle can officially begin

As Novell re-introduces its Linux desktop, more open source advocates are beginning to believe that the call for widespread Linux desktop adoption is leaving the realm of zealotry and entering the mainstream.

One of the more notable events at Novell Inc.'s BrainShare 2006 conference last month was the unveiling of the open standards-based Novell Open Workgroup Suite, part of which is the re-branded SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10.

This re-branded desktop effort features a new core rendering technology called Xgl that takes advantage of accelerated three-dimensional rendering hardware, which was used to create richer graphical experiences for the Linux desktop.

The suite, which will be available in May, is notable for the weight Novell has given it as well as for the features present in the desktop offering. The unintentional timing on the part of Microsoft's decision to delay consumer and small business versions of Windows Vista and Microsoft Office until January 2007 works in Novell's favor as well.

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Whether this will be a watershed moment for the Linux desktop remains to be seen but, already, advocates for the open source OS are clamoring to explain why now -- not in times past -- the moment is right for enterprise-level corporations to begin migrating to Linux.

While research firms like Framingham, Mass.-based IDC have Linux taking over as much as 10% of the market in the next five years, Linux advocates like Russell Pavlicek, senior editorialist of The Linux Show, said the OS is ready now.

"Linux as a serious enterprise desktop offering is long overdue … the technology is ready," Pavlicek said. "Aside from cost-friendly licensing issues, desktop Linux offers a higher degree of customization of the desktop."

It's just that the corporations don't see it that way -- just not yet.

"For years we have witnessed much spilled ink touting Linux's low-cost, open source, free-for-taking approach to software with many positing that it would lead to the demise of Microsoft's hegemony over corporate desktop operating systems and office productivity applications," said Clay Ryder, president of The Sageza Group Inc., a Union City, Calif., consultancy.

"To date, this has largely been the delusional fantasy of religious fanatics that are hell-bent on venting their frustration at Microsoft's ability to create two seemingly unstoppable cash cows out of this market opportunity," he said.

But even Ryder is ready to believe that's about to change with the introduction of Novell's OWS [Open Workgroup Suite] product this spring. "From a simply visual standpoint, the GUI on SLED 10 [SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10] is familiar, and perhaps to some it's cleaner than that of [Microsoft] XP. But beneath this pretty veneer is the host of utilities and basic application features," Ryder said.

These features, outlined by Novell executives at BrainShare and the German CeBIT conference, include word processing, spreadsheets, multimedia, presentations, Internet access, e-mail, calendar, and a host of others that the bulk of corporate information workers need.

In short, Ryder believes the desktop aspect of OWS has reached the good-enough bar for serious consideration as an alternative to Microsoft's desktop. That doesn't mean the turnover to OWS will happen quickly, however.

Vista has already accumulated a pre-launch reputation for significant minimal hardware requirements, upgrade costs and retraining. Analysts like Ryder now say they believe that a switchover to OWS would instantly add to the life expectancy of a company's desktops and reduce financial outlay, and it would not require substantial changes to the environment already familiar to the majority of workers.

"When OWS is combined with the substantial back-end infrastructure capabilities of ZENworks along with GroupWise, as Novell has promised it will be, the pricing and performance will begin to border on disruptive. While Windows Vista may come to represent a substantial upgrade opportunity for Microsoft," Ryder said. "It may also unleash a considerable upgrade opportunity for Novell."

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