Novell Inc., once a strong competitor of Microsoft in the market for server software, is expected next week to introduce a desktop software package that integrates the technologies it has acquired from SuSE Linux and Ximian Inc.
The desktop system will also incorporate enterprise management software from Novell's Zenworks and Ximian's
Linux-based desktops are still seen as a tough sell for established IT environments because many administrators are locked into a Wintel refresh cycle that is difficult to break. Such is the case for Dermody Truck Sales, a Grand Rapids, Mich., truck dealer, which is tied to the same software as its supplier, Bellevue, Wash.-based Paccar Inc.
"We order our trucks from their database," said John McNeilly, a network administrator at Dermody. "We can't vary. If we did, it wouldn't be supported."
But Waltham, Mass.-based Novell's desktop entry will provide Microsoft with tough competition in emerging markets and in several corporate departments where application compatibility isn't an issue.
"Linux [desktops] is suitable where there are CAD environments, where you don't have to worry about applications compatibility, and when a company doesn't want to replace existing hardware," said Simon Yates, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., consulting firm.
The Longhorn factor
Enterprise customers will also come to a fork in the road in a few years when Microsoft's Longhorn finally ships. IT administrators will have plenty of time to think about whether they need everything that
"Everyone expects that Longhorn migration planning in 2007 will involves a lot of new hardware, applications, development and testing," Yates said. "That's going to be a big shift for companies, and also an opportunity for them [to decide whether to make a change]."
Much of the decision will depend on how many applications work on the Linux platform by then, so application maturity will also be a factor, Yates said.
"This desktop would interest me, but the main thing is whether or not it can really support the Microsoft programs," said Sye Keene, a systems administrator at Anacom Medtek, an Anaheim, Calif.-based company that makes communication devices for hospital rooms. "Like it or not, they are out there in the greatest majority."
Commodity purchases and emerging markets
Novell has an established reputation on the server and network side of IT, but when companies consider desktops, they generally look to purchase as cheap of a commodity as possible. In that case, Linux might be a good fit in locations where IT doesn't want to replace existing hardware.
And many think Novell will find opportunities in emerging markets such as China and India, where there is no Windows legacy to consider. "Microsoft would certainly be nervous about that," Yates said.
Perhaps the most important part about the Novell system is the matter of having another vendor willing to stand behind the Linux desktop, said Bruce Perens, a consultant and creator of the Open Source Definition, which he describes as "a bill of rights for the computer user."
The desktop software that Novell is releasing next week in packaged form is already available as separate components, so the real question is how well integrated it is. Perens thinks the early customers for it will be new businesses, not those seeking desktop replacements.