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Novell touts Linux as force for innovation

Open-source software will provide a competitive kick in the pants--rather than a fatal stroke--to makers of proprietary applications, according to a Novell executive.

Open-source technology will force software vendors to create better products, but will not be its downfall, according to a Novell executive.

Matt Asay, Novell's director of Linux business office, said Tuesday at the LinuxUser & Developer Expo in London that Linux threatened the proprietary software industry with innovation, rather than extinction, and accused companies such as Microsoft of failing to come up with exciting new applications.

"When was the last time that Microsoft Office got significantly better? It's been pretty much the same product for a while now," Asay said.

"As things stand, creativity has gone, and that's one reason that Linux on the desktop makes sense. It'll be good for Microsoft, too. They won't like it, but it will force them to innovate," he added.

In recent months, Novell has been on the offensive against Microsoft's desktop stronghold, with a heavy emphasis on the Linux operating system. It has also been doing battle with Linux nemesis SCO Group.

Asay compared people who say that open source is bad for the software industry to captains of the entertainment industry who opposed new technologies, such as the cassette tape and the VCR--both of which generated billions of dollars in new revenue for their companies.

One of the key questions being addressed at the conference is the extent to which Linux can dominate the desktop PC market. At least one speaker felt that Microsoft had a few things to teach the open-source community.

According to Linux distributor SuSE Linux, now a division of Novell, one key factor in boosting the adoption rate of open-source software is to eliminate obvious differences with Windows and to emulate Microsoft's operating system where appropriate.

"Microsoft has more money to spend on usability than I do on research and development," said Christian Schlaeger, vice president of research and development at SuSE Linux.

"Some things are wrong, and we fix those, but there are some things they have done well."

Schlaeger told the conference that SuSE is aiming for a "flat learning curve" for users who migrate to Linux from other operating systems.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.