Novell: Linux desktop is ready

The Linux vendor says it has addressed desktop Linux challenges, but Gartner analyst notes that it's still early days.

SINGAPORE--Novell hopes its newly-released Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 will address problems that have plagued the Linux desktop realm.

Guy Lunardi, Novell's senior product manager for Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) said new features such as a more intuitive graphical user interface, on-the-fly desktop search as well as extensive hardware support, will drive the adoption of desktop Linux among business users. He was speaking at the launch of SLED Tuesday and the Suse Linux Enterprise Server software.

Lunardi said: "Unlike previous versions of our Linux desktops which have potential challenges, our early adopters of [SLED] are very satisfied with the functionalities, together with the essential ability to customize their desktops."

The enhanced user interface now seen in SLED, was the result of 1,500 hours of usability testing and feedback from the user community, he said. The latest release also includes the OpenOffice productivity suite, multimedia support and Novell's open-source e-mail software Evolution, that is compatible with Microsoft Exchange.

Hardware issues have also been resolved, according to Lunardi. In the past, users would have to undergo a tedious configuration process to get basic peripherals such as flash-based disk drives, to work with the Linux operating system, he said. With SLED, it is just a matter of plug and play, a feature which Lunardi demoed during the launch.

However, in a recent interview with ZDNet Asia, Dion Wiggins, research director and vice president at research company Gartner, noted that while desktop Linux has made some progress, it still has some way to go before it can pose a serious challenge to Microsoft's dominance on the desktop.

"In Asia, Suse and many other [Linux] flavors such as Debian, are becoming popular…[and] they will become very popular in the next few years. However, there are still barriers," he said.

According to Wiggins, Linux-based desktops today are primarily used as terminals for specific purposes such as data entry, and not as a fully functional desktop computer. "Running full office productivity suites and enterprise applications is still a few years away before it becomes a mainstream thing," he noted.

On the server space, however, Wiggins said Linux is rapidly gaining maturity and is seeing significant adoption. "[Linux server software] is reliable, stable and relatively bug-free, and desktop Linux will be the same as it evolves," he added.

Revathi Kasturi, managing director of Novell in West Asia, said the governments and education sectors in the region so far have been most receptive to deploying Linux desktops. "In some locations, telecoms and financial services sectors have also been early adopters," she added.

Novell has also seen governments in India and Malaysia embracing desktop Linux. "In Singapore, we are also engaging some government [bodies], and looking at opportunities [involving large deployments] in the desktop space," Kasturi said.

Application support seems to be a common bugbear that is dogging Linux desktop adoption. To ensure Novell's Linux platform is well received, she noted that the company is already putting in place training programs for partners and independent software vendors to help them port their applications to Novell's Linux platforms.

Wiggins lauded efforts by the Linux Standards Base (LSB) and Asianux to promote a set of standards in Linux software development, so Linux applications can be deployed across multiple Linux flavors. Asianux is an East Asian variant of Linux developed by China's Red Flag Software, Japan's Miracle Linux and South Korea's HaanSoft.

"With Asianux, a vendor can certify its products against the Asianux source codes and immediately target the three biggest markets (China, Japan and South Korea) in Asia. That's a significant advantage," Wiggins said.

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