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Novell to release enhanced Linux in fall

Upcoming release to fuse Novell technology with that acquired from Ximian and SuSE Linux.

SAN FRANCISCO--Novell plans to release its new corporate version of Linux for desktop computers this fall, merging technology from two Linux specialists it acquired.

Embracing the open-source operating system, Novell acquired SuSE Linux this year and Ximian in 2003. Thus far, however, the Waltham, Mass., company hasn't merged the two companies' products with each other or its original software. Now that's beginning to change, evidenced by a product demonstrated at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo here this week.

The prototype was called Novell Linux Desktop. Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry cautioned Friday that may not be the final name.

The product's foundation is the operating system for corporate customers that has been called the SuSE Linux Desktop, a slower-changing version that comes with the software certifications of SuSE Linux Enterprise Server. The new desktop software also includes the Ximian Desktop version of the GNOME user interface and software suite, and it's customized to work smoothly with Novell's GroupWise server software for e-mail, calendars, contact lists and instant messaging.

It's due to ship this fall, said Christine McLellan, a Novell senior product manager.

Novell touted its desktop Linux plans at its BrainShare conference in March, predicting that Linux would be widely used on PCs within 12 months. Indeed, for the first time, more copies of Linux than Mac OS were sold for use on more personal computers, according to 2003 market share research from IDC.

"Novell's Desktop is a serious contender for the enterprise," Robert Francis Group analyst Stacey Quandt said. Although Red Hat server customers might want to stick with the same company for the desktop as well, customers could be swayed by SuSE's earlier adoption of the new 2.6 Linux kernel, she said.

But challenges remain. Microsoft, still by far the dominant company in the market, hopes to cement its position with new technology due in 2006--the "Longhorn" version of Windows. And though the No. 1. Linux seller, Red Hat, isn't as aggressive as Novell, it launched its own Linux desktop software in May.

Novell's desktop software employs the GNOME user interface and software, but it will also include that of rival KDE, McLellan said. However, Novell's integration work is happening only with the GNOME applications, she said.

For example, a calendar item entered in Evolution will appear in the GNOME calendar, and an instant-messenger nickname entered in Evolution will appear in the GAIM instant-messenger client. GNOME components Evolution and GAIM will dovetail with GroupWise server software, while the KDE equivalents--KMail and Kopete--will not.

The software also will come with RealNetworks' media player; Mono, the open-source clone of Microsoft's .Net infrastructure, a version of the OpenOffice.org software suite customized so its graphics are consistent with other software, and Novell's iFolder software to synchronize and share files.

The demonstration version used the Epiphany version of the Mozilla Web browser, but Novell hasn't decided which to use in the final product, McLellan said.

Although the desktop software likely will bear Novell's brand name, the company doesn't plan to phase out the SuSE name or its green gecko mascot, said Novell Vice Chairman Chris Stone in an interview here.

"The SuSE brand is strong," especially in Western Europe and Asia, Stone said. "There's no reason to change it."

The Ximian brand hasn't proved as enduring. The former Ximian Evolution e-mail software is now called Novell Evolution; Ximian Connector to link Evolution to Microsoft Exchange servers is now Novell Connector; and Ximian's Red Carpet is now part of Novell's Zenworks management software.