Desktop Linux: Novell making slow progress

Less than 30 percent of internal users have migrated to a Linux desktop since March, Novell has admitted

Networking and Linux specialist Novell's company-wide rollout of Linux on the desktop is falling behind schedule.

Senior company executives estimated on Tuesday that only 1,500 out of 5,000 employees have made the jump to Linux since the process began in March this year. This is 1,000 fewer than chief information officer Debra Anderson's target for the end of October 2004.

Brian Green, director of Linux at Novell, said that Novell hopes to get the vast majority of employees migrated to Linux by the end of the year.

Green also said that the company's implemention of Linux is helpful when it is advising customers on migrating to the open-source operating system. But Novell says that migrating to Linux is not the best strategy for all companies. Novell recently advised media giant ITV to stick with Windows as it had recently migrated to XP and had already paid the licence fee, said Green.

According to Novell, few customers would be better off replacing every desktop with Linux. Instead, Green said, Novell recommends switching just part of the company over to open source.

But this dual strategy can increase support costs, according to a senior IT executive at a major pharmaceutical company. He said that the 12 Apple Mac users in his company require one full-time support person, while for the 20,000 Windows users, only 200 support people are required.

Chris Schlaeger, vice-president of research and development at Novell, said that his company's first step was to migrate to, which he said has saved Novell $1.1m on Microsoft Office licences. All employees in Europe and 90 percent company-wide have migrated from Windows to the open-source desktop.

One issue that companies often face when migrating software is resistance from users. Green has a simple solution to this -- offer your employees no choice.

"In my team I mandated it. I just said 'do it'," said Green. All 72 members of his team are running Linux and

Training is another issue in a large-scale migration but Green said little training was required, although this is partly because Novell's employees tend to be quite technology-savvy. He said that marketing was the only department which had needed training.

"The marketing department had very complex PowerPoint presentations with things zooming in from different angles. They needed training on Impress [OpenOffice's Powerpoint equivalent]."

Schlaeger claimed that migrating between different versions of Microsoft Windows is not much simpler.

"The difference between Windows NT and Windows XP is not that much bigger than the difference between NT and OpenOffice," said Schlaeger.

But the senior IT executive from the pharmaceutical company believes that training is likely to be more of a problem in large non-technology companies.

"Even if only 15 percent don't get it you don't know which 15 percent so you end up training everyone, which is expensive," he said.

The main problem that Novell faced in its internal rollout was the migration of legacy company applications to the platform, said Green. For example, the system which it uses to file expenses required Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) and the Microsoft Java Engine. Novell's solution was to create an IE6 extension for the open-source browser Mozilla.

Schlaeger said migrating Windows application was less of a problem. Either they could be replaced by a direct equivalent, or software which allows Windows to run alongside the Linux desktop, such as the open-source application Wine, could be used. But Novell had to be tough on which applications were migrated to the Linux desktop.

"I had one employee who tried to give me a business case for his iPod not working on Linux. We turned him down," said Green.

Novell is not the only large pro-Linux company rolling out Linux internally. Sun Microsystems is committed to doing the same and has already rolled out its Java Desktop System across its UK operations.

IBM has migrated some of its desktops to Linux, including all desktops at its recently opened manufacturing plant at Fishkill, New York, according to Adam Jollans, worldwide Linux strategy manager at IBM. But IBM does not plan a wide-scale rollout, instead it plans a mixed Linux and Windows environment.