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Interview I spent a little time on AIM with SuSE U.S. rep (and all-around nice guy) Holger Dyroff, discussing SuSE's new products, trends in Linux desktop/consumer use, and the state of Linux market penetration in general. This transcript has been edited (very lightly) only for grammar and spelling, not content. Make sure you read all the way to the end, where Holger mentions SuSE's take on SCO's decision to commit corporate suicide.

Roblimo I tried -- and liked -- the new SuSE office desktop product. What additional features are we going to see in the upcoming version?

Holger Good question. The new announced SuSE Linux 8.2 will not be a successor of the SuSE Linux Office Desktop but a new version of our successfull Personal and Professional series!

New features we'll see are Ease-of-Use with KDE 3.1, more applications like MainActor and GNU Cash (Video editing and Home Banking) as well as better mobility (Wireless LAN cards and WinModems)

In regards to the SuSE Linux Office Desktop it's well received from our customers and we will continue this product line as well and enhance it in the not too distant future.

Roblimo Will we see it in retail stores? Will people be able to buy it from Staples, Office Depot, Fry's, CompUSA and other places most people go to for software?

Holger Yes. SuSE Linux Office Desktop is available at Fry's and Microcenter, already as well as on Amazon.com.

SuSE Linux 8.2 of course is available as usual: BestBuy, CompUSA, Microcenter, Fry's, Futureshop (for Canada). Staples and Office Depot weren't profitable channels for Linux and you'll not see it there.

Roblimo One problem I -- and others -- have noticed with SuSE is that the automated update feature doesn't seem to work very well. Is this because of unreliable mirrors? Inherent in the software? And is the problem fixed in 8.2?

Holger You are right. It didn't work well in SuSE Linux Office Desktop. In SuSE Linux 8.1 some customers had problems. We have put effort in that for 8.2.

1) It's now more reliable and we tested it thoroughly.

2) We put in a new feature: A daemon is now checking for available updates and warning you if there are some to apply.

Also important (You might have read announcements from our competition) -- SuSE Linux 8.2 comes with FREE security fixes, etc. and access through YaST Online Update for 2 years!

Roblimo So SuSE works out to... umm... $20 per year for home users? Not bad.

Holger Basically, yes. If he needs to run some Windows Applications and therefore needs the Desktop Product it's more expensive but I think still affordable.

We will also start with pre-loaded hardware with 8.2. We are confident to have an announcement in the next 2-3 weeks.

Roblimo What kind of hardware? A nice laptop I hope? :)

Holger Not yet, sorry. It'll be desktops first. But we have not yet seen many offers with SuSE Linux, that will change.

Roblimo Are you working with any "big name" hardware vendors?

Holger Yes, we are talking with several, but no deals closed yet. Actually in Germany we are dealing with Fujitsu Siemens, they offer pre-loaded desktops since 1-2 years already.

Roblimo How about less-advanced countries, like the United States?

Holger As said, we are talking to top tier vendors and I see it coming for this year!

We already have a huge wave of interest from the desktop product. We basically have a customer a day who is thinking about more than 1000 desktops with Linux.

It's rolling.

Roblimo How's it going on the corporate desktop front? Interest is nice, but are you getting any actual installations/conversions?

Holger Corporations tend to have a 6-12 months sales cycle, they just don't decide on a rollout of 1000+ desktops overnight. Early successes are in Germany until now. A complete city administration (Schwaebisch Hall) is changing to 400 desktops and 20 servers with nothing other than Linux.

Believe me, it'll come soon. But I know every journalist would like to write about it today :)

Roblimo I doubt that many journalists who make their livings covering Windows technology are interested, but that's their problem. :)

Thinking of journalists, are you getting more inquiries from mainstream press people than you did a year or two ago?

Holger Yes. PC World and PC Magazine are increasing their coverage. Infoworld and Computerworld are regular Linux writers, and I suppose you saw the Business Week cover story about Linux recently.

I suppose it just comes along with a higher market share. Even on the desktop we will have a higher Linux marketshare then Apple by Q1 2004.

Roblimo According to whom? (14:54:15)

Holger That's IDC data, they say about 2% right now and 4% a year from now. (Apple is 3.5%). SuSE is backing this data, we have the same perception. (14:54:48)

Roblimo You and IDC actually expect the number of Linux desktops in the world to double in the next year?

Holger That's correct.

And we have clear targets for the business desktop. Just think about several million Desktops out there which are still running OS/2! They need to be migrated in the next two years and we want to make sure that many of them will migrate to Linux.

Roblimo Do you honestly believe Linux - specifically SuSE 8.2 - is ready for use by the average home computer owner who is currently using Windows 98 and thinking about upgrading?

Holger It depends. If he is working with his PC and browsing the Internet: YES

If he is heavily into gaming and wants to have the same new multimedia applications as his friends - Not yet.

Applications will be key for this market and I think Codeweavers with their Windows Enablement Technology is an opportunity to bridge the gap and make the applications available now.

But short term, it's the business desktop first. Not the family with a 9 year old in school. (If they have a 13 year old its a market, she or he might be a kernel hacker soon :)

Roblimo GnuCash - I see SuSE is touting the latest version of GnuCash. Do you think that will be a big selling point for home users?

Holger Yes, as it has some nice new features including home banking, and why buy extra applications for Windows if a nice application is coming with your Linux operating system?

Roblimo I have no answer to that. It's like the "Why pay more?" question you see in supermarket ads. :)

What applications do you hear the most requests for on the home and small office level?

Holger Photo Editing and Printing is a huge issue. Gimp is nice, but is yet missing some features and people are asking about Adobe Photoshop-like applications and features all the time.

Another area which is frequently asked for is web publishing and tools like Macromedia offers.

Roblimo Anything up SuSE's sleeve on in these areas?

Holger Not yet, we are not application programers, but a service provider who takes what is available as open source software and delivers it to its customers.

Both ISVs Adobe and Macromedia would definitely be a key towards a Linux desktop revolution. And I read Adobe is starting to use QT to develop on.

Roblimo Moving away from the consumer area... How's the Openexchange Server doing?

Holger It's doing good. We have sold several thousand worldwide and the most asked question was, do you have a trial version so I can test that Outlook works with it.

Roblimo And have you?

Holger It's brand new. It's $19.95 and can be pre-ordered at http://www.suse.com/openexchange/slox_eval_form.html

Roblimo Ah.

Holger It'll be the complete product with all functionality. But without maintenance. So everybody can easily try it out!

Roblimo Actually, I know some people who run a fair-sized network -- around 800 users -- who tried Openexchange and liked it, say they plan to implement it soon.

Holger Wow! Thats good news! We have some others like that in the states, but the most we sold were like 300 concurrent licenses or so. Everybody else is in Evaluation. The sales cycles get longer if more users are involved.

Roblimo What's the biggest deal you have under evaluation?

Holger About 1900 EndUsers.

Roblimo Wow.

Holger We don't promote it above 1000 users right now, as we want to get some experience first and are missing some features for really huge companies.

Roblimo But sales, in general are picking up?

Holger Yes, absolutely.

Roblimo Are they still asking why they should use Linux, or coming to you for Linux?

Holger No, that got much better. A) Linux and B) SuSE Linux have made progress in brand recognition. People are comparing pricing and of course many need information and proof, because they are implementing something "non-standard" instead of MS Exchange which everybody knows.

Roblimo How about retail sales of the consumer products? Doing better?

Holger They are stagnating a little bit right now. I'm looking forward to 8.2. Part of the problem is the economy, people reduce their Update cycle to save some money, etc.

Roblimo Do you think increased competition for desktop Linux users might be part of the cause? Lycoris... Xandros... Lindows... Mandrake still cranking... Red Hat remembering desktop users...

Holger Competition is what motivates us every day to make our products even better.

Roblimo But isn't the "Linux user pie" spread a little thin right now?

Holger Not necessarily as the whole Linux retail market is still shrinking (about 10 percent 2001 to 2002) and we are the only vendor who sells more then in the year before. New vendors like Lindows are looking for new customer groups.

But you are right, instead of buying a new version of SuSE Linux, some customers might just think, "let's try Xandros this time."

And of course, more people download it from the Internet. Even SuSE Linux which is available for a free download 4 weeks after the start of sales in the shop.

Roblimo Obviously downloads are important. On one hand, you tell us Linux desktop usage is exepcted to double soon, but on the other you talk of retail sales being down by 10%, except for SuSE. Are downloads a big factor in this seeming contradication? Or is most of the increase in Linux desktop use going to be in corporate settings, not homes?

Holger From a sales perspective it might just be that the people don't update as frequently as they did. Kernel 2.4 is rock solid and money is tight.

Broadband connections are getting more and more used and this allows easier install of SuSE Linux over the Internet, which is fine and is the idea of Linux. And yes, our focus in the near future will be the corporate and business desktop but, as we show with SuSE Linux 8.2, we will not forget our roots.

Roblimo Last question: It sounds like SuSE is doing a lot of great stuff. When will SuSE disassociate itself from SCO so we can buy SuSE products with a clear conscience again?

Holger We are reevaluating our relationship with them right now. This needs a little bit of time. We were surprised from their actions as I guess everybody else was and I can tell you, our CEO Richard Seibt was not amused.

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