System Builders To Novell: We'll Give You A Listen

Novell urges system builders to take a risk and offer customers another choice in operating systems. Early indications are that some are listening.

May 22, 2006

4 Min Read
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If packed demo rooms are any indication of interest in its latest Linux desktop, Novell has a willing audience.

The scrappy operating system company, which stormed the Linux and open-source scene with its buyout of SUSE Linux two years ago, Sunday delivered a sincere challenge to the XChange Tech Connect audience here in Las Vegas: Take a risk and offer your customers another choice in operating systems.

"Don't slip into comfortable inaction,"said Ladd Timpson, global director of channel and partner marketing at Novell, during the first keynote session of the conference. The title of Timpson's presentation: "Offering Choice In An Open World."

Several market factors are playing to Novell's message, he said. They include the rise of new licensing and support models across the software industry, the urgent need for secure computing environments, the reality of heterogenity and the ongoing need to cut costs.

The Waltham, Mass.-based software company also used Sunday's XChange venue to deliver a special sneak preview of its updated and upcoming Linux desktop to attendees, in both its keynote and a packed-to-the-gills demonstration room."When you read stories about Novell, it's typically about Linux," Timpson said. "We're pushing to make that the No. 1 [Linux] distribution, of course. But Novell is not just a Linux company," he added, touting the company's positions in identity management, resource management and the data center.

Novell Senior Engineer Peter Bowen put the beta edition of SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 through its paces, touting, among other things, its support for pulling in Visual Basic scripts as well as Active Directory synchronization and full NetWare integration.

Novell executives freely admit that this product is not for the desktop power user who uses every single Excel feature, but the company is positioning its offering as a viable alternative for fixed-function, transactional or technical workstations as well as basic desktops.

The software's integrated "application browser" feature drew nods of approval from the audience.

The technology intuitively figures out what application you need to launch based on the word you type into the search query. As far as desktop search, queries pull up pertinent results across multiple applications including documents, instant messages, e-mail (including attachments) and Web browsers.The software comes with various productivity applications and boasts plug-and-play integration with peripherals including the Apple iPod and digital cameras, according to Bowen.

For sheer gee-whiz factor, he demonstrated the ability to toggle quickly between multiple applications, presenting the user with an active thumbnail view. Users can even flip between desktop views on more than one dimension, a feature that might appeal to system builders that want to place machines in multiuser settings.

Robert Stewart, CEO of Alert Computing, a system builder based in Sedona, Ariz., that this week was named as the top "White-Hot Performer" among CRN’s 50 Leading Systems Builder list, said he was very impressed with the product and that it got his attention right away. The Vista delay -- coupled with Microsoft's licensing policies -- will provide him with an opening for conversations with his customers.

"They'll listen to me," he said. "And it works, that's the most important thing."

Alert Computing already uses Linux as the basis for its custom servers; Stewart said his company has built more than 9,600 units over the past year.

Steve Plotz, president of Computer Systems of Tampa, Tampa, Fla., said Novell is stepping in at the right time and that Microsoft shouldn't take system builder future loyalty for granted. "I don't have a problem switching over," he said.Novell's Timpson did not provide pricing details for the forthcoming update, which is due in July, but the current price tag for the Novell Linux Desktop, powered by the SUSE Linux kernel, is $50.

"I don't think we believe in any way that we're going to displace Microsoft," Timpson said in a separate interview before the presentation. "But this gives [solution providers and system builders] a way to reduce their costs and increase their profitability."

Gary Clayton, vice president of system builder Entre Technology Group based in Fort Worth, Texas, which uses Linux for some of its embedded, single-use systems, said the operating system remains a tough sell and Novell has an uphill battle on its hands.

"If the better product would have won, Novell [NetWare] would still have 80 percent of the market share," Clayton said.

Still, he believes the custom-system market has the opportunity to change this, especially in an environment where more partners and customers are questioning Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft's licensing and development policies."It's up to the white-box market to lead the charge ... then our collective voice will be heard," Clayton said.

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