SuSE aims Linux at enterprise desktops

The German Linux company has unveiled a desktop edition of its Enterprise Server, customised for large organisations that are considering ditching their Microsoft technology
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Germany's SuSE Linux on Monday will launch new software and a marketing initiative that aim to make it easy for large organisations to migrate their desktops to the Linux operating system.

At the centre of the initiative is a new desktop version of SuSE's Linux distribution, based on the same code base as the company's three-year-old Enterprise Server. Like Enterprise Server, SuSE Linux Desktop will be based on an 18-month release schedule -- stately in the world of Linux, where some companies release a new build every night. Some other Linux makers, such as Red Hat, have been moving toward less frequent releases to cater to large organisations, which prefer to stick with the same software for several years.

SuSE also unveiled a new logo and slogan, "Simply Change", which is aimed at organisations that might think twice before ditching their Microsoft platforms.

"There is an alternative today. You can choose Microsoft or Linux," said SuSE chief executive Richard Seibt. "Competition means more choice, and that is good for our customers."

SuSE said it is taking advantage of a business opportunity created by its chief rival, Microsoft. Enterprises have grown increasingly interested in Linux as an alternative to Microsoft's Windows due to concern over Microsoft's monopoly position in the operating system market and recent unpopular changes to Microsoft's volume licensing programme, according to SuSE.

At a SuSE press event in London on Friday, a Cap Gemini representative said that most of the outsourcing bids the company receives now contain queries about open-source software and Linux in particular.

The new desktop software has already made headlines: it will be the software replacing Windows NT on several thousand desktops for Munich's city government, in a deal announced recently.

SuSE Linux Desktop incorporates a number of improvements aimed at ease-of-use for end users, as well as encryption technology developed by the German government.

SuSE has heavily customised the two main Linux graphical user interfaces (GUIs), KDE and Gnome, airbrushing some of the differences between the two and making them easier to use for those used to Windows. The KDE implementation, in particular, bears more than a passing resemblance to Windows XP. Much of SuSE's work also went into simplifying the menus used to launch programs, configure the PC, add printers and carry out other system functions.

Red Hat took a similar approach to simplifying the Linux GUIs in its most recent desktop-oriented release.

The system includes a local area network browser for connecting to other PCs, and folders can be shared over the network via a right-click menu. Files can be encrypted by right-clicking on them, an implementation of encryption technology developed for KDE by the German government.

The package includes fonts licensed from Agfa in order to ensure font compatibility with Microsoft Office documents. Also included is CrossOver Office from Codeweavers, which allows organisations to continue running Microsoft Office and other Windows applications on Linux if they choose to do so. As an alternative to Office, SuSE offers Sun Microsystems' StarOffice and Ximian's Outlook clone, Evolution.

Many of the user interface tweaks will show up in the next release of SuSE's end-user-oriented Office Desktop, which is due out in the autumn.

For system administrators, the software includes features designed to simplify the process of rolling out and administrating large numbers of desktops around an organisation. The most important benefit for administrators, however, could be that they can run the same software across all their platforms, including servers, desktops and mainframes, SuSE said.

"They can have two administrators instead of five," said Markus Rex, SuSE's vice president of research and development.

Linux is considered one of the chief rivals to Windows, and has already had considerable success in servers, where industry analysts expect it to control more than 30 percent of the market by the end of this year. In a company-wide memo last week, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer identified Linux as one of the company's chief threats.

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