Novell has introduced the next version of its desktop Linux OS, a release the company hopes will begin a "viral" migration from Windows in the next several years, said Jeff Jaffe, the company's executive vice president and chief technology officer.
Novell Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 (SLED 10), launched at the Cebit conference in Hanover, Germany, is the first version of Novell's desktop Linux that is "good enough" for enterprises to replace Microsoft's Windows OS in more than just limited deployments, Jaffe said.
"Our new SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop now meets the needs of the basic office worker," he said.
Jaffe acknowledged that desktop Linux has barely made a dent in the enterprise, though a migration from Windows to Linux on enterprise desktops has been predicted for years. However, he said that he expects enterprise pilots of SLED 10 to begin in earnest in late 2006.
Then, once companies realize how painlessly they can integrate a Linux desktop into an enterprise dominated by Windows, the trend to use Linux alongside or to replace Windows in the enterprise should catch fire by 2008, Jaffe said.
"I don’t think mass migrations will come until 2007, maybe 2008, but this is the year to really prepare for it," he said.
Nat Friedman, vice president of Linux desktop engineering for Novell, demonstrated SLED 10, which appears to share many of the same features as early test versions of Windows Vista. Vista is the next major upgrade to Microsoft's Windows OS that is expected to ship at the end of the year.
SLED 10 will be available by late September, Jaffe said.
Novell created a new 3-D graphical user interface for SLED 10, which is similar in appearance to the interface Microsoft has demonstrated in Vista in that it allows for 3-D maneuvering of Windows on the desktop. It also allows users to make windows transparent so they can see what is in the background while working on another application in the full screen.
Novell also created new features to fix some of the common problems Linux on the desktop has had in the past, Friedman said. For instance, the company created a new plug-and-play mechanism for SLED 10 that immediately recognizes hardware devices and allows users to work with them much in the same way that Windows does.
Novell also created its own music player software for SLED 10 with the help of RealNetworks. The software, called Banshee, looks somewhat like Apple Computer's iTunes. It allows users to listen to MP3s legally on Linux, something that previously was not available in mainstream open-source software because of the complexities of licensing the patented MP3 codec for use in open-source software, Friedman said.
"Linux users used to download an MP3 player from some site in Russia," he said, not entirely joking. "This gives you the out-of-the-box experience."
Jaffe said it has not lined up any hardware partners yet to ship SLED 10 on their PCs and laptops, but he expects those will come once the system is available.
"Part of [hardware vendor adoption] is to get the message out that the Linux desktop is going to happen," he said. "All the hardware OEMs are going to listen carefully to that message."