Novells new CTO Jeff Jaffe is very bullish on the outlook for the Linux desktop going forward, saying he believes it is on the cusp of a significant adoption wave.
"I think we are approaching a tipping point on the enterprise desktop side. The industry has built a commercial infrastructure to make it easy now for more open-source projects to be relevant to business," Jaffe said.
"There used to be all sorts of barriers and obstacles, even if the technology was good enough, but a lot of the nontechnical barriers are now evaporating," he said.
While, previously, there was not enough momentum behind the desktop, the technology is now better. Corporate IT departments have became more comfortable with having the right skills for Linux, and are developing acquisition policies to bring open source into their enterprise, he said.
"I think it is about to take off. As I see it, if you segment the market, there are those for whom the Linux desktop has been fine for the past few years—fixed function, transactional users, thin clients—but I think what we are about to see is adoption by the basic office worker," Jaffe said in an interview with eWEEK at the Open Source Business Conference here on Feb. 15.
Jaffe is a former executive at IBM and Lucent Technologies—who was appointed to the position last November to replace Alan Nugent—and will be overseeing Novells technology and product business units.
With regard to adoption of the Linux desktop on the consumer side, Jaffe said that would take longer, as would support from the ISV community. But, for the enterprise Linux desktop, Novell was working hard at providing even better integration in the desktop for users.
"We are also doing a lot of work in our labs to exploit and develop the new X over OpenGL graphics subsystem, including using it in applications, windowing and managing photographs, so there is a lot of excitement there," Jaffe said.
But corporations would have to, almost universally, get very clear on their acquisition policies for open source this year. "There are some corporations who want to let us have flowers bloom internally and then there are others who are scared to death," he said.
Bill Hewitt, a senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Novell said that while desktop adoption numbers remained small, Novell was seeing some volume from customers like the Department of Education and Ritz Camera.
"Just from a Novell standpoint, we save some $3 million a year not paying for Microsoft licenses, so as the economics become more apparent to customers, they will start to move," he said.
Jaffe added that it is interesting that for many years now the number one mantra for CIOs was avoiding vendor lock-in, which had driven things like standards and Posix.
"It is very interesting that there is this one part of the industry where that has not quite happened. But I think deep inside their DNA they do not want vendor lock-in," Jaffe said.
"When the Linux desktop is at a level that they no longer question its value, when that happens, the instinct of every corporate IT manager is to go to the thing that is open," he said.
Asked by eWEEK why he had taken the CTO job at Novell, given the recent layoffs and other negative corporate issues that had affected the company, Jaffe said that his career as a technologist had been about understanding what the key technology plays would be over long periods of time.
"When I met with the leadership team at Novell, they were passionately involved in what I view as the most disruptive technology and methodology in our industry, which is open source.
"I also got a serious sense that Novell as a company was going to constructively participate with the community in making this happen and in making a difference in the industry," he said.
Asked how Novell would differentiate itself from its competitors like IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Red Hat, Jaffe said that many of the companies that were its competitors were also its partners.
Open source was changing the way software was built, developed, sold and incorporated into enterprises, and many companies will continue to work together to make that happen, he said.
"But, having said that, where we are focused is on our operating system distribution, which is a fundamental anchor point for everything. It is where it all starts," Jaffe said.
"We will also continue to participate and contribute strongly to the open-source community, which is an important part of our philosophy. We are also very dedicated to providing enterprise services and support, with our long history around NetWare giving us a deep knowledge of the enterprise and their needs," he said.