Novell Inc., which last year bought SuSE Linux and Ximian, is working on a single desktop product to ship before the end of this year.
That product will combine the best features from both the Ximian desktop and the SuSE Linux desktop, both of which shipped last year, in a single Novell desktop that will have Novell support, training, channel, partners and global reach.
“So, we are essentially taking the best of all three companies: strength from SuSE in terms of multiplatform support and enterprise-hardened Linux distributions; our expertise and usability and innovation and interoperability on the desktop from Ximian; and Novells strength as a billion-dollar-revenue company with an enormous channel and very powerful reach and great product quality and support,” Nat Friedman, Novells vice president of Linux desktop engineering, told eWEEK in an interview.
But Friedman would not discuss the pricing model for the upcoming desktop, except to say there is room for a subscription-type payment model as well as the traditional, one-time payment for the packaged physical software.
Friedman said Novell will continue to support existing customers on the current products, adding that the company is focused on creating a desktop environment that is extremely well-integrated and interoperated with the rest of the environment.
“So, you wont see us removing large chunks of code,” Friedman said. “We will support both the KDE and GNOME desktop environments and, from an application perspective, there will be a set of defaults that we will support: Evolution, OpenOffice and Mozilla.”
With its unified desktop product, Waltham, Mass.-based Novell is principally targeting the enterprise market of large-scale organizations, including government agencies—but the company also will be looking at countries outside the United States in Latin America and Southeast Asia. The company will target small and midsized businesses (SMBs) later, Friedman said.
Six points differentiate Novells desktop offering from all of the other desktop products in the market already, he said, from Microsoft Corp.s Windows to the Red Hat Desktop and Suns Java Desktop System.
The first difference is Novells support and its experience in desktop support. “Red Hat has no experience supporting desktops at all. Novell, with Zenworks, has done this for a long time,” Friedman said.
Second is the management solution for both Windows and Linux, and third are the value-added services that would make Linux work well for an enterprise environment, essentially GroupWise, GroupWise Messenger, the Identity Management solution, iFolder and iPrint.
“All those services that have been built on NetWare over the past 20 years are now being made available on Linux, and we have built Linux client code for all of this,” he said.
Fourth is technology differentiation in a few key areas, including the thin-client space, where “we will have a very strong story that is hardware-independent,” Friedman said.
The Mono Project is also a key differentiator, he said, as that technology will be included in the desktop, and Novell will create applications built on Mono.
“We are also going to be providing Mono as a supported ISV platform for people who want to build applications for Linux,” Friedman said.
“This allows us to leverage all those Microsoft developers who have been trained on .Net and who can now develop applications for Linux, which is enormous and gives us a better interoperability story with Microsoft.”
The fifth differentiator is the fact that Novell knows interoperability and Windows well. The company is also implementing the Open Desktop Initiative, under which it is aggressively migrating all internal Novell clients—about 6,000—to the new Novell Linux Desktop under development.
“The coordination between our engineering team and the team doing that rollout is very good, and we are getting incredible feedback,” Friedman said. “This is the best set of beta testers possible from an engineering perspective, as we can try things more aggressively and learn a lot faster.
“We understand that people are going to live in a mixed environment for a while and will still have Windows and Linux machines, and we are going to make that work really well, which again is not something Red Hat [Inc.] is focusing on and enabling,” he said.
The sixth differentiating factor is what Friedman called Novells leadership in a number of key areas such as open source, OpenOffice, Mozilla, GNOME, KDE and Evolution. “We will use that and Mono to drive the real growth of our ISV strategy in the future,” Friedman said.
Friedman also said there arent too many players in the desktop market and that the ones based on Linux are essentially all using the same code base. “The good news is that we are all using open source,” he said.
“Red Hat engineers work with our engineers who work with Suns engineers every single day, so we are not repeating the Unix wars and are all working off the open-source code base, and theres room enough for a lot of competition. But we are going to compete really vigorously here,” he said.
Responding to comments by Microsofts group vice president of platforms that the open-source community will be playing “catch-up” to Longhorn, the next version of Windows due in 2006, and that they are “cloners,” Friedman said Microsoft has a strong history of copying open-source innovation, from the first Web servers and browsers to the first declarative language for user interfaces and XML.
“Microsoft is building these castles in the sky, and we are not going to build the same castles in the sky elsewhere. Thats not the approach. What matters is that we give the users and developers what they want,” he said.
“Cloning Microsoft is not the approach here. What Microsoft has discovered, though, is that Web standards have stagnated and that the Web and desktop experiences are different.”
He said the recent discussions between Mozilla and GNOME intended to look at how the community can provide a great environment for developers to provide high-fidelity applications until “we give them a Web deployment model. Thats what people want. Thats what that discussion centered on and was not about us going right after Microsoft,” he said.
Microsoft is also releasing all of its innovation in Longhorn in pretty much a single drop, Friedman said. “We arent limited in that way, and we are able to provide innovation when it is ready, while Microsofts strategy is to make everyone pay for an upgrade, and so innovation is delivered that way.”
But the fact that so many Linux-based desktops exist is a solid indication that customers want a Microsoft alternative, he said, adding that Novell sees a huge revenue opportunity there as the use of Linux desktops grows.
A number of enterprise pilots—many of them undertaken by Fortune 100 companies—are testing Novells desktop, he said, as well as a group of customers known as the Customer Council that reports back on a weekly basis.
“We are not yet in public beta with the product, but it will be ready by the end of the year,” Friedman said. “You will see a more public beta from us later this year.”