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Novell: Linux desktop set to take off

Novell President Ron Hovsepian believes the market for Linux on desktops will become ripe in the next 12 to 18 months.

SAN FRANCISCO--Linux on desktop computers will begin taking off in mainstream markets in the next 12 to 18 months, Novell President Ron Hovsepian has predicted.

Linux has been widely used on networked computers called servers, but it has comparatively little success on personal computers, beyond technically savvy users. Many companies have argued the open-source operating system is on the verge of breaking out in PCs and have been proven wrong. But Hovsepian sees some changes that he believes make the market ripe.

He's not the first to make such bold predictions, but so far Linux hasn't caught on widely beyond a small, technically savvy minority. Several companies--among them Corel, Linspire (formerly Lindows), Eazel and Suse itself--haven't dented Microsoft Windows' dominance.

Hovsepian believes that Novell's software--he pointed to his company's own forthcoming Suse Linux Desktop 10--has matured enough that three markets will be interested, he said in an interview here Friday.

First are large corporate users with employees who don't need full-featured PCs but rather just basic software such as a Web browser. Second are small business owners who see the savings from Windows license fees going straight to their own wallets. Third are residents of Brazil, Russia, India and China--the so-called BRIC countries--who are price-sensitive and who haven't already made a big investment in Windows, he said. China in particular is interesting because of pressure to curtail Windows piracy, Hovsepian said.

Naturally, he touted his company's upcoming Suse Linux Desktop as the product that will turn the tide. He predicted sales will begin with large "anchor accounts" buying the software for 3,000 to 5,000 computers at a time this year, with more aggressive sales in 2007.

But skepticism remains. Large companies already have a massive investment in Windows tools and technologies, said Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans, and "sustaining what they've got tends to be easier because it's a more straightforward approach" than switching to new technology. As for developing countries, people want the same software as first-world nations, and that means Windows still has an advantage.