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SuSE widens scope for desktop Linux

The software maker introduces a version of Linux aimed at enterprise customers, hoping to move the open-source software beyond servers and low-cost PCs.

Open-source software seller SuSE released on Monday a new desktop version of the Linux operating system aimed at corporate buyers.

SuSE Linux Desktop is built to integrate easily with existing hardware and software, the German company said, making it feasible for organizations to use Linux on PC desktops.

"We believe this is the product that will bring Linux to enterprise desktops across the whole world," said SuSE CEO Richard Seibt.

While Linux has made substantial inroads on servers--large computing systems used for complex tasks such as dishing out Web pages--the open-source operating system has yet to make substantial inroads on desktop PCs. To date, desktop Linux installations have been concentrated among tech-savvy individuals and low-end consumer systems such as those sold by Wal-Mart Stores, with businesses sticking to Microsoft's familiar Windows operating system.

Corporate and government buyers have begun to experiment with the open-source operating system, however, as evidenced by last week's announcement by the German city of Munich that it will replace Windows for 14,000 city PCs with Linux.

SuSE hopes to accelerate Linux desktop growth with the new product, which focuses on corporate concerns such as support and compatibility with existing systems. SuSE Linux Desktop comes with a standard one-year maintenance plan and includes CodeWeavers CrossOver Office 2.0 to allow the operating system to work with Microsoft's Office software package.

Dan Kusnetzky, a system-software analyst with market researcher IDC, said that companies with a large number of transactional workers--those people who don't like computers and use them only for specific applications--are likely to become new SuSE customers.

"They don't care what the operating system (is)," he said. "This group will run whatever is given to them, and as long as they can access the application or the client that lets them access the application, they will use it."

Moreover, Microsoft's software licensing program has irked many enterprises, leaving many companies looking for alternatives, he said.

"SuSE has an uphill climb, but once companies consider the system, there is a chance for broader adoption when licenses with Microsoft expire," he said.

On Monday, Linux software maker Ximian also released its latest product, a package for desktop PCs. Unlike SuSE, the company focuses on desktop software that runs on top of several different versions of Linux. In addition, it sells a service that delivers the latest software updates for those versions of Linux.

The CrossOver Office software in SuSE's package adds a translation layer between Microsoft's Office software and the Linux system, enabling the applications to run. Jeremy White, a developer with CodeWeavers, said that companies are increasingly considering adopting the software to ease the move to Linux for some of their workers.

"When we originally came out (with the software) a year ago, we sold just to enthusiasts," he said. "Now we are getting enterprise deals as well."

About 10 percent to 20 percent of the employees that switch to Linux need the Windows compatibility offered by CrossOver Office, he said. While White hopes that the SuSE deal will work to boost sales of the software, he worried that CodeWeavers' other advantages will get lost in the shuffle.

"This partnership gives enterprise customers access to CrossOver Office, which is cool," he said. "Hopefully, customers will also value the ability to easily take advantage of some additional enterprise services and products we have."

Hardware makers announcing support for the new SuSE initiative include IBM and Hewlett-Packard. IBM's A31 and T40 ThinkPad laptops and NetVista desktop PCs have already been certified as compatible with SuSE Linux Desktop.

SuSE will sell the software in a package priced at $598, which includes an installation kit and a year of support for up to five PCs.

CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.