Novell's shift to open source makes slow progress

Two years after Novell first mooted a company migration to Linux, 60 percent of its staff can still boot Windows at work.

Novell may be evangelizing Linux and Open Office on the desktop, but more than half of its own employees can still boot Microsoft Windows and Office if they wish.

Ron Hovsepian, Novell's president, speaking at a press event in Sydney, said that "about 2,000 employees right now out of 5,000 are single-boot only, which is Linux only, the rest are dual-boot." He said that a project to migrate the 3,000 dual-boot workers to open source is likely to be completed over the next year or so.

The shift from Microsoft Windows and Office to the open-source software was first mooted in March 2004, when Novell Chief Information Officer Debra Anderson was handed the task.

At the time, Anderson said she hoped most of Novell's staff would have moved to Linux and the OpenOffice.org office suite by mid-2005.

Hovsepian's remarks indicate Novell will have at most a few months' experience as a complete Linux and open-source desktop shop behind it when, according to the company's predictions, the software starts taking off in the mainstream. He told CNET News.com on Friday that Linux on the desktop would start taking off over the next 12 to 18 months, with the scheduled mid-2006 release of Suse Linux Desktop 10 being one of the factors fueling growth.

However, while Hovsepian stressed that Novell was "in the process of finishing the migration right now," and Anderson acknowledged back in 2004 that the numbers would never be clear-cut because of dual-booting scenarios, the lengthy time frame required raises questions about the practical challenges for businesses examining a move to desktop Linux and open-source software.

Hovsepian said in Sydney that Novell's desktop Linux implementation had been missing some of the pieces businesses needed, but said version 10 of the software would help the market for desktop Linux adoption.

Regarding his company's own Linux migration, Hovsepian said it had learned a lot from the implementation and had overcome challenges involving, for example, porting macros from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.org.

"We've had actually very good success with it," he said. "We learned a lot about migration tools, learned a lot about what the usability pieces are."

Renee LeMay of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.

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