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SAN FRANCISCO—Novell Inc. is not, as some had expected, releasing even a beta version of its new Linux desktop at the LinuxWorld tradeshow here. Instead, what the company is doing is just demoing a version of the Novell Linux Desktop at its booth, and it’s looking for user reactions.

“We’re not even saying anything about it or when you can expect to see it,” said Chris Stone, vice chairman of Novell. “At this point, we just want to let some people who know Linux get a look at what we’re thinking about doing with the Linux desktop.”

The look and feel of the Linux desktop has long been controversial. Two camps of supporters have polarized around the two main Linux desktop managers: KDE and GNOME.

The result of disputes over the desktop managers—and their associated software suites—is that only the most bare-boned Linux distributions have shipped, with just one or the other of the two. When Bruce Perens, a major open-source leader, attempted to jump-start efforts for a business Linux desktop, UserLinux, using only GNOME in November 2003, he met with considerable resistance.

Perens had argued that he “made GNOME the default desktop by fiat. Looking at KDE and GNOME, you can always show how one is better than one or the other. But I choose GNOME. I did so because UserLinux is intended to be a system for businesspeople, and it’s too much to ask for business IT to maintain expertise in two GUI development kits.”

Perens finally agreed to support KDE, “even though KDE is not the chosen GUI of the UserLinux project.”

Novell’s two Linux divisions, Ximian and SuSE, are attempting what many at LinuxWorld think to be just as hard a task: Instead of picking one over the other, Novell, as the company announced at its annual Brainshare tradeshow in March, is working on combining the best features of GNOME and KDE into a single, new best-of-breed Linux desktop.

Read about Novell’s plans to integrate Ximian and SuSE features.

This is not an attempt, one Novell engineer explained, to merge the two desktops’ code bases. “They’re just too different,” the engineer said. “They’re built on two different graphic libraries. GNOME uses the Gtk graphical library toolkit, while KDE uses Qt. It would be like writing a novel using both English and Russian.”

At the time, Novell thought it would have such a desktop ready by year’s end. Now, Stone won’t publicly give a date. “The project isn’t even in alpha. We do have a schedule for it, but that’s just for internal use.”

Stone explained that Novell has decided, for the same reasons as Perens, that a successful enterprise desktop must have one official interface. However, knowing well the firestorm of controversy such moves have caused in the past, Novell is taking its new desktop slowly. “We want to make sure we get it right,” Stone said.

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