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BOSTON—Novell Inc. CEO Jack Messman delivered a Linux valentine to CIOs at the opening keynote at LinuxWorld here on Tuesday, taking pains to emphasize that Linux is business-ready in terms of security, certification, indemnification, and being able to run in entire hardware and software stacks, including on the desktop.

“A great deal of progress has been made in the past 13 months alone,” Messman told attendees. Whereas in last year’s keynote Messman said that IT managers were still leery about Linux, particularly concerned about whom to call if something breaks, now Novell hears “fewer and fewer of these questions,” he said.

“The good work the open-source community has done … has encouraged IT executives to see the light,” Messman said. “Many CIOs and CTOs [chief technology officers] agree that open source and Linux in particular is the center of the enterprise.”

He pointed to surveys that show that 53 percent of all CIOs said open source will be the dominant technology by 2007, saying that Linux’s strategic importance in enterprises will over time continue to bear fruit as Linux moves to the desktop.

“Today we see over 3 million production servers on Linux across the world,” he said. “Though it’s still a blip on the screen, some 10 million Linux desktops are running worldwide. All this shows Linux is strategic.”

IT managers are interested in using Linux because it helps them achieve four critical objects, Messman said: to streamline and simplify IT with a common operating system that works on all popular hardware, to unify their IT staffs with one common body of knowledge based on Linux, to save infrastructure costs, and to prevent vendor lock-in.

Messman pointed to the range of work Novell has done to embrace Linux across all its product lines, including announcing this week the open-sourcing of code from eDirectory developer interfaces—a move that will allow third-party applications to leverage eDirectory passwords for secure authentication.

The company also announced “Hula,” an open-source project to create a collaboration server to provide Internet calendar and mail. Novell is open-sourcing more than 200,000 lines of code from its NetMail collaboration server product, which already has an installed base of more than 4 million users.

Click here to read more about Hula.

“It was a good place to start because it was developed for use over the Internet,” Messman said of the NetMail code contribution. “Together, let’s build a future of Internet collaboration, and let’s do it on open source,” he said, saying that he hoped that Hula would eventually give IBM’s Lotus Notes, Microsoft Corp.’s Exchange and Novell’s own GroupWise a run for their money.

Although much has been done to make Linux enterprise-ready, though, customers are asking for “much more,” Messman said, including assurances that entire solutions, from hardware and software stacks up through middleware and on up to applications and the desktop, are all certified, that IT staffs have the skills to support it, and that IT executives have the ability to properly and completely train their staffs.

“It’s this assurance that will remove barriers to adoption,” Messman said.

Novell also announced on Tuesday the availability of Novell Security Manager powered by Astaro, a network security product that contains six perimeter security applications with an integrated management platform based on SuSE Linux that’s designed to protect businesses from hackers, viruses, worms, spam and intrusions.

Regardless of Messman’s pitching of the 100 percent enterprise, IT managers at the show were anything but convinced that Linux has been fleshed out sufficiently to fill out entire hardware and software enterprise stacks. Greg Kruse, director of product development at Leading Edge Design & Systems, in Severn, Md., and his colleague, Allen Lerner, director of network security, were particularly skeptical at the applause Messman got when he announced that all 6,000 Novell internal desktops are switching off of Windows and onto Linux.

“I think any flavor of Linux has so far to go before it can be fully integrated into the enterprise as a desktop,” Lerner said. “Anything above the desktop, it’s definitely got a strong foothold. All the tools [I use] for penetration testing, for auditing, for lockdown, they’re all based on Linux. [But] it strikes me as odd that there’s a roomful of people who think Linux on the desktop is ready for prime time. I use a Mac laptop.”

Kruse agreed, pointing out that while an instructor at a Monday LinuxWorld workshop had a Linux laptop, he also had a Macintosh in his bag. “You’re tied to the Office environment with all the products,” he said.

“I integrate Mac with the Windows environment, and there are shortcomings, but I choose to live with the shortcomings,” Lerner said. Everybody has Virtual Machine. Don’t say [Linux is] 100 percent” capable of running in the enterprise, he said. “You can’t get away from [Windows].”

Additional reporting provided by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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