Novell will launch its business Linux desktop by the end of the year despite an extended testing program that has seen it miss its intended summer launch. Novell has had to keep the beta program for the new product closed to reduce the number of participants and ensure that the company gets meaningful results.
The delay is certainly not caused by a lack of interest, according to Nat Friedman, vice president of research and development and Novell’s Ximian Group: Right now there’s huge interest in the Linux desktop, we’re trying to temper that enthusiasm, he said, revealing that the company will also be targeting the product at three key markets: the special purpose desktop for fixed function, the general purpose desktop in public sector and education, and the engineering workstation.
Getting down to enterprise necessities
The product is currently in closed beta testing across those three target markets, with 40 customers, 30% of whom are existing Novell customers, and the remaining 70% totally new to Novell, said Mr Friedman. With another beta testing build to go, the product should be available by the end of the year. We wanted to spend enough time with the customers and get their feedback, said Mr Friedman.
As well as targeting Novell Linux Desktop at specific users, Novell will also be stripping out much of the unnecessary functionality from its existing SuSE Linux Professional desktop version in order to meet enterprise requirements. Instead of 4,000 packages, you get the 800 you need, said Mr Friedman.
Meeting the security and manageability requirements of enterprise administrators is also a target, with Novell’s desktop group working closely with the ZENworks resource management team.
We have a bundle of ZENworks Linux Management with SuSE Linux Enterprise Server, available on a subscription basis, and we’ll also do that for the Linux desktop, said Alan Murray, Novell director of product management for resource management. We’re trying to bring feature parity for Windows desktop management to Linux desktop management.
Learning from experience
As well as the closed beta program, Novell has also been learning from its own experience of moving close to 6,000 users to the Novell Linux Desktop as part of its internal Open Desktop Initiative.
That initiative has a target of moving 100% of Novell’s users to Linux on the desktop through 2005, according to Novell’s chief information officer, Debra Anderson, with 100% of users now having access to the OpenOffice.org productivity suite, 87% using it frequently, and close to 50% already on Novell Linux Desktop.
Moving the entire company in one go to a new desktop is not something that many CIOs would contemplate, and Ms Anderson admits that were she the CIO of another company, she might have handled the project differently. If I was CIO somewhere else I’d still be doing it but I wouldn’t be doing it this way, she said. We are Novell’s first customer. We’re doing it across the company, but as a CIO I would still be piloting on the desktop but I would be more selective.
Nevertheless, the project has enabled Novell to learn a lot about Linux deployments on the desktop that it is planning to hand over to its customers and the open source community. One advantage has been first moving to OpenOffice.org on Windows, and then the Linux desktop, as well as looking for volunteers to take a lead. It’s still voluntary and I think that speaks to the enthusiasm, said Ms Anderson.
Linux central to strategic success
Of course it helps when the success of the Linux desktop is potentially important to the future of your company, rather than another new desktop operating system, but Ms Anderson maintains that the experience of Novell internally will benefit the wider community. Development has a view about what they’ll build and deploy, but it has to be put into practice, that’s where we add value, she said.
The deployment is also adding value to Novell, with licensing and maintenance cost savings of $900,000 accrued so far, according to Ms Anderson. Those are just software licensing and maintenance savings, however, and do not include the cost of Novell’s Linux desktop maintenance. I don’t pay for it, so we don’t do it that way, said Ms Anderson.
While the company is rolling the product out across its entire organization, Novell will not be recommending this as a strategy for customers, according to Mr Friedman, who said the company is trying to rein in enthusiasm for the Novell Linux Desktop in order not to oversell it as a complete general purpose desktop. We’re going to be really clear in our message about that, we’re going to be really clear with the sales team, he said.