Referred to as SLED 10, Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (version 10) was launched at CeBIT in Hanover, Germany today. Infoworld's Elizabeth Montalbano reports that this isn't just any old version of desktop Linux. It's the one that Novell believes could easily displace Windows en masse in enterprises. Wrote Montalbano:
Novell has introduced the next version of its desktop Linux OS, a release the company hopes will begin a "viral" migration from Windows in the next several years, said Jeff Jaffe, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Novell....Novell Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 (SLED 10), launched at the Cebit conference in Hanover, Germany, is the first version of Novell's desktop Linux that is "good enough" for enterprises to replace Microsoft's Windows OS in more than just limited deployments, Jaffe said...."Our new SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop now meets the needs of the basic office worker," he said.
It may be that it meets the needs of the basic software worker. But whether it will make the dent that desktop Linux has so far failed to make remains to be seen. Desktop Linux in the enterprise faces several uphill battles. The first of these is software support. There are some software packages for which a Linux version exists. For the ones that don't, there may be a Linux substitute. But moving to such substitutes is easier said than done. At the very least, they involve retraining of end users. At the worst, there may be a legacy of data that has to be converted (or is better off being converted than not). At the very worst, there is no substitute and the Windows version doesn't work in WINE (a Windows emulator for Linux). This is one good reason, by the way, to move to application service provider-delivered applications like Salesforce.com. Because they work in a browser, they're pretty much agnostic to operating systems.
The other problem Desktop Linux has is that in the bigger picture of the total cost of ownership of a desktop or notebook system, the differences aren't that significant between Linux and Windows. Most enterprises will pay for top-flight support no matter what software they have and operating system support is just one part of a system's total cost of ownership. In addition to other software, there's support of the hardware too. Mileage will vary. But there will be some circumstances where a move to Linux cannot be justified from just a pure cost-benefit point of view. Other benefits may have to be given more weight before it makes sense.
Lack of a big Linux talent pool is also a problem. Corporations are filled with experts who know every nook and cranny of Windows. The number of these people who are also skilled in providing customer service to in-house users for Linux pales in comparison to the skilled desktop support teams for Windows. I'm not saying there aren't great Linux experts out there who can't fill that role or that the existing Windows experts can't develop the same skills for Windows. It's just one of the obstacles to overcome. Another challenge for Linux is that Windows comes on almost every new computer. Sure, you can toss it out and replace it with Linux. But this stranglehold that Windows has on systems manufacturers gives Windows a distinct market advantage.
These aren't reasons that Linux shouldn't have success on enterprise desktops. Let me repeat that. Enterprise desktops. This is a different category than all desktops on the whole. Enterprises have unique needs. These are just some enterprise market realities. I've got Linux running on some systems here and I've always taken pride in being a multi-OS household. But whether or not enterprises en masse are ready to bite the same bullet remains to be seen. The first wave of enterprise-like adoption, if there is one, will most likely be in government situations where the use of open source software has been mandated. I'm looking forward to getting a copy of SLED 10 and putting it on a few systems here. Whenever I get around to that, I'll let you know how things work out.
Related: Although motivated by different news, ZDNet blogger Paul Murphy makes some similar points about desktop Linux in businesses.