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At LinuxWorld Expo in London on Wednesday, Novell Inc. promised its desktop Linux software by the end of the year and launched the latest version of SuSE Linux Professional, including updated wireless networking technology. Hewlett-Packard Co.’s head of Linux strategy, speaking at the same conference, said recent advances in security and high-performance computing technology are pushing Linux into new realms.

SuSE Linux Professional, aimed at technical enthusiasts, is updated more frequently than the enterprise edition, and thus includes the platform’s latest improvements. Version 9.2 offers some enhancements to the 2.6 kernel, the KDE 3.3 and GNOME 2.6 desktop environments, updated mobility configuration tools and support for Bluetooth and wireless LANs. It is available for standard 32-bit processors as well as the 64-bit AMD64 and Intel EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology) platforms.

Click here to read eWEEK Labs’ reviews of KDE 3.3 and GNOME 2.8.

The package also includes the 1.1.3 productivity suite, Novell Evolution 2.0 groupware, GIMP 2.0 for image manipulation, the 2.6.8 kernel and the X.Org Foundation’s X Window System X11R.6.8.1.

Freddie Kavanagh, Novell’s chief technology officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, gave attendees an update on the progress of Open Enterprise Server and Novell Linux Desktop, the two major products intended to bring together Novell’s legacy customers with technology acquired from Ximian and SuSE. Both are expected by the end of this year, although Novell expects OES to make more of an immediate impact than the desktop.

“A confluence of things is moving Linux toward the tipping point on the desktop, but it takes time,” Kavanagh told, speaking from the LinuxWorld show floor. “You can’t make a big change something so visible in an organization overnight—you have to manage the risk. CIOs are typically a risk-averse bunch.”

OES, which will bring together NetWare 7 and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 with a common management interface, will be attractive to Novell customers planning a gradual migration to Linux, but also to any other companies eyeing Linux, Novell hopes. “Customers migrating from Windows are used to graphical user interfaces, and when moving to something like Linux, the same breadth of GUI tools isn’t available,” Kavanagh said. “This matches the usability of Windows management. Together with other services like identity management and security policy management, it makes a compelling package for system administrators.”

Novell’s SuSE-based desktop software is now in closed beta testing and will begin to make its way out to partners and resellers as early as next month, with general availability by the end of the year, Kavanagh said. Like Sun Microsystems, with its SuSE-based Java Desktop System, Novell is initially aiming at PCs used for fixed functions such as financial services or retail terminals. One difference with Novell’s desktop will be that, like all of Novell’s business-oriented Linux products, it will be based on SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9. The desktop will use tools from SuSE such as the YaST configuration manager and Ximian’s graphical environment, and will be tuned to work with Novell’s OES platform, Kavanagh said.

Still, Novell is not expecting anything dramatic on the desktop for now. “I don’t think there will be significant movement to the Linux desktop over the next 12 months,” Kavanagh said. “As you gradually build up services around it, I think you will see it start to take off a bit more.”

Next page: Moving from Windows to Linux.

Novell is in the midst of moving its entire staff from Windows to Linux desktops, a process which the company is approaching as research as much as anything else. Kavanagh said virtually everyone in the company has now shifted to—a significant step—and a significant portion, if not all, of EMEA staff are expected to be on Linux by the end of the year.

“Once people have moved to OpenOffice, you’ve addressed a big part of the problem, since the office environment is where most of the time is spent,” Kavanagh said. “Once you’ve done that, it’s less of an issue to move users to NLD.”

For the next year and a half, Novell sees its Linux investments focusing on the desktop, centralized management of Linux in a mixed operating system environment, and Linux in the data center, Kavanagh said in a Wednesday keynote presentation.

Novell’s chief rival in the enterprise Linux space, Red Hat Inc., abandoned its consumer Linux distribution in April. Michael Tiemann, vice president of open-source affairs at Red Hat, subsequently explained that “the retail
model wasn’t working for us.”

Holger Dyroff, vice president of product management for SuSE Linux, said that the retail model does work for Novell. “We’re making a very nice profit with SuSE Linux Professional,” he said. “We’re selling about 200,000 units worldwide every six months, primarily in Germany, the U.S. and the U.K. With [Version 9.2], we’re re-entering the French market.”

SuSE Linux Professional has also served as a good introduction to Novell’s enterprise products for business customers, he said.

Dyroff credited Novell’s success to a “consistently
better product with stronger usability and management features” and a regular six-month release cycle.

Meanwhile, HP sees security and high-performance computing as two areas that are currently reaching a turning point in Linux, although they will take a longer time to reach the mainstream.

The implementation of the Linux Security Module in the 2.6 Linux kernel is a significant step, according to Mike Balma, HP’s worldwide Linux strategist. In the works for some time, the module creates a framework of hooks allowing many security models to function as loadable kernel modules. “It’s a very flexible environment, and will be the basis for a lot of innovation,” Balma told

Other important security advancements are the recent inclusion of Security Enhanced Linux features in distributions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, Common Criteria certification for some Linux distributions and Linux support for No Execute technology, designed to block buffer overflow security holes, Balma said. “Linux is turning the corner on security,” he said.

The new 2.6 kernel, now being implemented in enterprise-grade Linux distributions, is allowing Linux to support systems with more processors than before, Balma said. “You now have the ability to do fine-grained scheduling that allows Linux to scale to higher SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) environments,” he said. “Typically, four-way systems have provided the best price/performance ratio, and you didn’t see a lot of eight-way systems before the 2.6 kernel.”

Over the summer HP began supporting SuSE Linux Enterprise Server in 16-way configurations and higher on its Itanium systems, Balma said. “Linux has added that capability; it’s stable—now we need to get the rest of the infrastructure in there as well,” Balma said.

In the longer term, Balma highlighted the potential for Linux of clustered file systems for organizations storing terabytes to petabytes of data, and the gradual rise of utility computing, for which he said Linux is particularly well-suited because of its clustering capabilities and good price/performance ratio.

LinuxWorld Expo continues through Thursday.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols contributed to this story.

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