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ORLANDO, Fla.—At Gartner Inc.’s Symposium/ITxpo, got a sneak peek of Novell Inc.’s forthcoming Linux Desktop. According to company officials, the anticipated software package may arrive sooner than expected and offer customers a choice of looks and feels.

Contrary to earlier reports, the Waltham, Mass.-based Novell has changed its plans and will not release a “best of breed” Linux desktop that combines the best features from the GNOME and KDE environments, said Ted Haeger, the Linux Desktop’s director of marketing. Instead, users will be offered an option for either KDE or GNOME during the installation process.

“There are clear geographical preferences,” Haeger said. “In Europe, especially Germany, KDE is very popular. While in the U.S., thanks to Sun[Microsystems Inc.] and Red Hat [Inc.]’s influence GNOME is very popular.” At the same time, “ISVs [independent software vendors] are favoring Gnome.” So, rather than alienate either desktop group or ISVs, Novell will support both interfaces.

Read an eWEEK Labs review here of GNOME and KDE.

The desktop will be based on the Linux 2.6 kernel, and offer customers a choice of the KDE 3.3 and GNOME 2.6 desktops.

In addition, the Novell Linux Desktop will arrive sooner than expected. At the summer LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco, officials gave the impression that the software would arrive in 2005, or by year’s end at the earliest. However, the desktop is now in its third beta refresh cycle, and while unwilling to commit to an exact date, Haeger said that the desktop might arrive early in November.

It will definitely be sooner than later, Haeger said, and, he said, looking at his watch, “I’m looking more at this than at a calendar.”

The desktop will also include Evolution, Novell’s e-mail, calendaring, scheduling, and contact management program. The Novell Linux Desktop, though, will not include Evolution 2, and instead will ship with Novell’s Connector for Microsoft Exchange Server, letting early adopters use it with Microsoft Corp.’s Exchange mail servers.

“Evolution is where we’re putting our engineering efforts,” said Haeger. One sticking point seems to be getting Evolution 2.0 to work properly with GroupWise, Novell’s collaborative work program.

Click here to read about GroupWise’s new Linux architecture.

The Novell Linux Desktop will, however, boast a much better wireless interoperability than most Linux desktops. Haeger added that the controls for enabling Wi-Fi connections were easily the equal or better to those offered by Windows.

Looking ahead, Haeger said the current Novell/SUSE Linux desktop, SUSE Linux Professional will become more of a community desktop, similar to Red Hat’s Fedora, while the Novell Linux Desktop will eventually become the company’s sole fully-supported desktop for the business market.

Novell released Version 9.2 of SUSE Linux Professional earlier this month. To read more, click here.

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