Novell Inc. has just announced details of its latest Linux offering for desktop computers. The software is to be known as the Novell Linux Desktop 9, hopefully to be shortened to NLD 9, and will be the first "Novell branded" Linux desktop offering supplied by the company following its acquisitions last year of open source favourites SuSE and Ximian.
The new desktop solution will be available from 12 November and will include a complete, tested and integrated, suite of open source tools built on top of the Linux platform. With interest in Linux as a desktop offering running at elevated levels Novell is keen to ensure that this offering is properly positioned in the market and the company is taking pains to try to ensure that it does not suffer from over-exuberant hype.
To this end Novell states that it does not see NLD 9 as an immediate threat to Microsoft's enormous desktop revenue stream. Instead the company believes that whilst many organisations could now employ NLD 9 as a mainstream business tool it is likely that enterprises will employ NLD as an opportunity to evaluate the potential usage of a Linux desktop. Novell trusts that making an early investigation of NLD will better position enterprises for future Linux desktop usage. It is interesting to note that Novell's internal Open Desktop Initiative now sees more than 85 per cent of its employees utilising the OpenOffice.org business productivity applications "full time".
At its core NLD 9 is designed to bring a Linux / Open Source environment to the desktop complete with standard business productivity tools (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software and Internet browser etc.) to the market in a pre-integrated package with full support available along with "enterprise deployment features".
The software is built on top of SuSE Enterprise Linux v9 (and this accounts for the "Novell Linux Desktop 9" nomenclature despite this being the first Novell desktop offering) and includes both the GNOME and KDE desktops. The SuSE brand name is set to remain as the focus in the Server Operating System space and the consumer arena.
NLD 9 includes OpenOffice.org 1.1.x, Novell Edition, as the office productivity suite, Novell Evolution for Email and collaboration and the Mozilla Firefox Web browser. NLD 9 also includes Novell iFolder, Adobe Reader, Citrix ICA client software along with Macromedia Flash Player and Real Player software.
The OpenOffice.org software has full support for Microsoft Office file formats and preserves MS-Office styles and Macros etc. Novell has taken pains to ensure that fonts are well rendered in the platform to help users feel comfortable if they are migrating from other desktop solutions. OpenOffice.org is also tightly integrated with Evolution Email. NLD 9 also ships with Gaim (GNOME) and Kopete (KDE) instant messaging clients that may interoperate with many leading IM clients in use today. As might be expected NLD 9 may also be used with Novell's GroupWise platform, though this is not included in the shipping software.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of NLD 9 has little to do with the software itself. A clear demonstration of Novell's own trust in desktop Linux as an enterprise tool is to be found in the fact that the company is offering to provide up to 5 years support and is promising to provide customers with a relatively predictable 12 - 18 month release cycle. These are features that are almost absolute requirements for any enterprise customer and the readiness of Novell to offer five year support from the outset is a development to be welcomed warmly.
Indeed, the desktop platform goes even further towards enterprise readiness as Novell has included many installation and ongoing manageability features. These include YaST, AutoYaST (no touch Linux deployment capabilities) along with CIM and LDAP support. In addition, Novell has available many processes to support migration projects.
NLD 9 will be available in two versions, with and without ZENworks Linux Management. The first offering, Novell Linux Desktop carries a list price of €50 or €90 with one or two years support. The awkwardly named Novell Linux Desktop Managed by ZENworks Linux Management comes with a list price of €68 or €122 for one and two years support respectively. Naturally, volume discounts are likely to be available.
Novell clearly believes that within the next two to five years it will be possible for almost all classes of workers, except the so-called "Corporate Power Users", to be able to make use of a Linux Desktop in addition to the core markets that the platform has already picked up, e.g. infrequent users, fixed function machines, engineering workstations and IT professionals.
The new NLD 9 offering is certain to attract attention from Linux enthusiasts and may well succeed in garnering enterprises to run usability evaluations. It will be fascinating to see how the market at large reacts, especially the highly visible supporters of open source. It will be especially interesting to see how Microsoft responds.
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