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Novell evangelizes Linux in Europe

Richard Seibt, the company's new European chief, says customers have their eyes on server consolidation, Linux standardization and security.

Open-source software is picking up steam in European businesses, and Novell is joining in on the trend--perhaps to the extent of releasing some of its own products under open-source licenses, according to the company's top European executive.

Richard Seibt, who was chief executive of SuSE Linux before its takeover by Novell and then briefly the head of Novell's SuSE business unit, became the head of Novell's European operations this month. In an interview Thursday, he said the biggest demand from customers is coming from server consolidation, standardization on the Linux operating system and security--specifically, identity management.

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"Those are the three most important areas for customers at the moment," Seibt said. "Fortunately, Novell has a portfolio of products for ensuring delivery of value on these issues."

Seibt maintains that his appointment as EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) president shows the importance of Linux to Novell's strategy. Novell, along with competitors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, sees Linux as a way of enabling customers to standardize on a single low-cost, nonproprietary platform, migrating from a hodge-podge of systems to Linux-based clusters or mainframes.

"You need one operating system to do that. What we have is an important initiative to help customers to add Linux to their infrastructure," Seibt told ZDNet UK.

European companies tend to adopt new technology early, testing it thoroughly before deploying it on a large scale. Seibt said Linux is now moving past the testing phase and into the investment phase.

"Linux started out on servers. Now, companies are running mission-critical applications on Linux, using 64-bit hardware and software architectures," Seibt said. The commoditization of the operating system is key to reducing business costs, he said, with companies differentiating themselves by the services built on the operating system.

Novell may choose to move a step further, switching some of its currently proprietary products to open-source licenses in order to take advantage of the open-source development model, Seibt said.

"The open-source community has an advantage in developing software," he said. "There are a lot of people out there--'collective inventors,' I sometimes call them--many eyes helping to improve the code. It improves software development speed, which is an advantage for our customers."

Ultimately, SuSE Linux will form an integrated package with software from another recent Novell acquisition: Ximian. Novell is planning to bundle Ximian's user-friendly desktop and software management tools with SuSE Linux to create a standardized desktop that will be simpler for enterprises to deploy and manage, Seibt said. "That's what the customer wants: one desktop."

Seibt downplayed the effect this philosophy would have on KDE, the main alternative to GNOME, upon which Ximian Desktop is based.

"The choice between KDE and GNOME is more a question of what kind of development platform you use," he said. "Many large companies are using one; others use the other. We will continue to support both. There is a market for both. That is our current view."

In the past, SuSE has focused its development efforts on KDE--for example, adding tweaks to the interface in a project backed by the German federal government.

Matthew Broersma of ZDNet UK reported from London.