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On Nov. 12 Novell Inc. and its channel partners smashed the proverbial champagne bottle over the nose of Novell Linux Desktop 9, powered by SuSE Linux.

The new Novell desktop is founded on a marriage of the GUI talent Novell acquired with Ximian, which powered the open-source GNOME project, and SuSE Linux AG.

“Novell people have contributed a lot,” said Kevan Barney, senior manager of public relations for Novell, who’s quick to add, “Basically everything in it is open source.” Novell’s first-generation Linux desktop operating system is dubbed Version 9 because the company’s Enterprise Server 9 is built on the same code base, according to Barney.

Barney added that Novell isn’t touting NLD9 as a Windows killer. “We don’t want customers to be disillusioned with what they can do with Linux,” he said.

“It should be used where there is a specific function,” Barney said. “If you go to the airport and check in at the kiosk, and it’s running Windows, that’s the only thing it’s doing, but the airline is paying a license for the full version of Windows. That’s where Linux would be a great alternative to Windows—a place to take over for what Windows is doing—for a much lower cost. You can save money doing these things, but you also have a productivity suite and Firefox browser. An office user can use Linux if they choose to, but that’s not who we’re targeting at this point.”

Some channel partners took a more optimistic view of Novell’s desktop than Novell is pushing.

“We’ve been waiting on [the Novell Linux Desktop] for a long time,” said Joe Vaught, president of PCPC Inc. of Houston. “We’ve been on the Linux bandwagon for about four years. We build maybe a thousand or so servers with Linux every month and have had Linux on servers across the United States and around the world for four or five years, and it has passed the test. We have had to learn to support it. The next thing is workstations and desktops. We haven’t had a stable package that corporate America can buy and have supported by a corporate organization like Novell until now.”

“Even though [the corporate Linux desktop market] is in its infancy, we’re getting a quality product aimed at supporting corporate America on a desktop and a laptop,” said Vaught.

“Novell has over 460 technical engineers around the world to support the enterprise,” he said. “We’re not the Alamo. If we’re going to lay Linux out for a customer, we need the support of Novell. They’ve been in business since Moby was a minnow. We’re installing this for oil companies that are going all over the world.”

The customer Novell doesn’t want to disappoint.

Jim Denison, Seattle Micro‘s president, however, has met the customer Novell doesn’t want to disappoint. “I’ve had a small business get rid of a complete server solution just to get Outlook,” Denison said. “It was a substantial investment. I liken the desktop end user to the tail wagging the dog. The end users have a lot more impact on the final decision than what you might think. Do you really want to listen to 10 people in a sales pool complaining every day?”

Denison hosted a local guru shortly after Novell acquired SuSE so the community could try it out. “We’re a Novell reseller; we have installed it on a number of machines,” said Denison.

“It installed easily—like Windows—in a positive, plug-and-play way,” he added. “You could walk up with these CDs and probably have a functioning desktop system within an hour. We added it to our network. We were able to load the GroupWise client [not included] and it worked. That’s something.”

Denison and others in the IT community have hosted Linux-oriented labs, and a friend called from Frye’s to report a Linux preload for $199 without a monitor. “What I haven’t seen is people implementing it in their businesses. It could be because of perceptions, the boss’s unfamiliarity, fear of the unknown, all of those things,” he observed.

“There are still many politics involved in what kind of desktops or computers and servers are purchased,” said Denison. “Consistency is an IT person’s dream. It’s an expertise issue, too. One guy at a major trucking company objected to Linux because he claimed that a lot of Unix expertise was required on staff. Specifically, he said that a Windows staff with one Linux guy wouldn’t cut it. I’m sure that’s stopping some people from running in that direction right now.”

“I think IT people are going to continue to experiment with [Linux], especially with server operating systems, more so than with the desktop,” said Denison.

“I believe Novell is putting a lot of marketing effort into the server portion and making more inroads there than in the desktop. If [a customer] swaps out a server operating system, they might not have to justify it to their boss, but if they swap out the whole marketing team to Linux, and they’re all griping, ‘Where’s my Outlook?’ or ‘Why does my desktop look different?’ I guess there are going to be more ripples,” he said. “I think that’s how they’re getting in—the desktop is going to take a little longer.”

Jordan Rosen, president of Lille Corp. of Albany, N.Y., has been selling NLD for a while, and said, “There’s really no better alternative to the Novell Linux Desktop for a corporate desktop.” For Rosen, it comes down to getting the customer’s job done.

“At the end of the day, the customer is not going to give you any bonus points for a good effort,” said Rosen.

“A user’s desktop is sacred. I look at software from the point of view of the end user,” he said. “I have to look at the screen. If it doesn’t have great importance, it should. There isn’t much noise about wallpaper; customers want to be productive. At the end of the day, they want to get their job done. They want a better productivity tool. I feel really good about this desktop. As a corporate desktop, it’s ideal. Absolutely now we are going to start to see Novell Linux desktops intermingling with Windows desktops.”

That said, “My mission is not to eliminate Windows desktops. My mission is to provide value. I expect to roll out Novell Linux desktops in Windows desktop environments. It will start out where it makes black-and-white sense and, as people explore and see the benefits—usability, reliability, security, uptime—pthey will start to use it more.

“Our culture has come to accept rebooting,” Rosen added. “What’s really interesting is that with the Linux desktop, it is dramatically more stable. I don’t know how the community will measure stability, considering that they’ve become accustomed to Blue Screens of Death and system freeze-ups. On the Novell Linux Desktop, you simply won’t have these problems nearly as frequently.”

The Novell Linux Desktop sells for a suggested price of $50 per system, which includes a year’s worth of upgrades and updates.

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