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The battle for the desktop is not over. At least according to Novell Inc., IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc. and Red Hat Inc., each of which is working on, or has recently shipped, new products that take aim at Microsoft Corp.’s Windows and Office.

Novell is concentrating on the enterprise with an offering that will combine the best features of Ximian Desktop and SuSE Linux Desktop, both of which shipped separately last year, in a single Novell desktop due by year’s end.

Click here to read eWEEK Labs’ review of the latest version of SuSE Linux.

Aspects of the Mono Project, the open-source version of Microsoft’s .Net Framework, will be added to the desktop, said Novell officials. Novell will also create new applications built on Mono, they said.

“We are also going to be providing Mono as a supported ISV platform for people who want to build applications for Linux,” said Nat Friedman, vice president of Linux desktop engineering, in Waltham, Mass. “This allows us to leverage all those Microsoft developers who have been trained on .Net to now develop applications for Linux, which is enormous and gives us a better interoperability story with Microsoft.”

Novell is also implementing the Open Desktop Initiative, under which it is migrating all internal Novell clients, some 6,000, to the new Novell Linux Desktop in development. Novell’s staff is also acting as the first enterprise beta testers for the product.
Novell will target large-scale organizations, including government agencies, with its unified desktop product, Friedman said.

This week, IBM announced Lotus Workplace Client Technology, Micro Edition, which will be distributed through a Web server and accessible from systems running Windows, Linux, Unix, Mac OS and handheld devices.

For its part, Sun is taking aim at academic institutions, government agencies and transaction workers with its Java Desktop System, which runs on Linux but will also be available on Solaris later this year.

For more on Sun’s Java Desktop System, click here.

Some developers said they believe IBM, Red Hat, Sun and Novell have an uphill battle in challenging Microsoft’s desktop dominance. “Microsoft is ubiquitous,” said Robert Proffitt, an open-source developer in Cambridge, Mass., “and with the continued coalescence of IT into smaller space, many companies can’t entertain a user base on disparate operating systems.”

Matthew Rice, a partner at Starnix Inc., of Thornhill, Ontario, disagreed, saying many vendors have a shot at overcoming Microsoft on the desktop. “With the great strides that have happened in the last couple of years on desktop applications, the playing field has been leveled,” Rice said.

While IBM officials downplay the competitive angle with Microsoft, saying it had less to do with beating competitors and more to do with saving customers money, Red Hat is not as coy. It is positioning Red Hat Desktop, due next week, to be attractive to Microsoft customers, particularly those running Windows 98, NT and 2000 and who are looking at the end of support for their platforms.

Check out eWEEK’s Desktop & Notebook Center at for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.