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Novell reaches out to Microsoft Office users

Takes a number, gets in line

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It's open season on the Windows/Office desktop again, with Novell the latest trying to lure away customers unhappy with the price Microsoft charges for "bloatware".

Novell said it's targeting specific types of information worker with its SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, launched in July.

Novell's previous desktop found favor in point of sale, thin client, and fixed transactional scenarios, the company said. Novell hopes to raise the bar this time around by targeting information workers, excluding power users, and home users, excluding gamers and multimedia fans.

The company's strategy is to encourage IT organizations to get a flavor for its desktop by undertaking pilots consisting of "several hundreds of users" during the next year - so far nobody has signed up for a pilot with Novell. There have been 155,000 downloads of SLES Desktop 10 compared to 170,000 for the server product.

"Our advice over the next six months is this is an opportunity for IT organizations to do significant pilots and try out our desktop that gives the technology at one tenth of the cost of what Vista will be for them," chief technology officer Jeffrey Jafffe said.

According to Novell, SLES Desktop 10 combines low-cost with Windows and Office interoperability, meaning businesses can deploy to selected groups of users without completely ditching Office. Novell's desktop uses OpenOffice 2.0, meaning support for many Visual Basic macros.

Novell is not the first, and won't be the last, to try and chip away at the Windows/Office hegemony. Novell follows in the recent footsteps of Sun Microsystems, which has tried to pick off segments of users instead of launching an information worker broadside against Microsoft. IBM and Red Hat also offer desktop and productivity stacks featuring OpenOffice, while Corel has been pecking at Office for years.

Encapsulating the situation, Jaffee observed: "The battle of the desktop has taken many years and will continue to take many years."

Novell, meanwhile, insisted the Xen hypervisor is ready for users, as the company is shipping Xen as part of SLES. One Red Hat executive recently cast doubt on Xen's reliability, especially for enterprise customers, with Red Hat subsequently issuing a statement that – reading between the lines – appeared to confirm doubts over Red Hat.

Novell chief marketing officer John Dragoon said: "We do think it's ready for primetime." Red Hat is due to ship Xen with its Linux distribution later this year. Dragoon said Novell had worked "intensely" with the community to make Xen stable. ®

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