If you're looking for an alternative to Microsoft for running your small business, Novell, Inc, may have the answer you seek. Last month, the company introduced the Novell Open Workgroup Suite Small Business Edition, a Linux-based program that includes desktop and server operating systems, management tools, an office productivity suite, collaboration software and numerous applications.
The suite was specifically tailored to meet the needs of businesses and other organizations of up 200 employees, said Novell spokesperson Kevan Barney. These small organizations have similar needs to big organizations, but don't have the same resources to acquire the software and administer it.
And, at a cost of only $350 for a five-person/single-server license (plus $125 for one year's maintenance), it costs less than the retail cost for a single copy Microsoft Office Small Business Edition.
Leaning on Linux
The key to Open Workgroup's low price is the use of open-source rather than proprietary software. Linux use has grown tremendously over the past decade, particularly in research institutions and large enterprises.
Initially Linux was something only a programmer could love. It was a fast, secure and easily customizable operating system, but it lacked the intuitive features needed by most people who want to just sit down at their desk and get to work. In addition, since it was open source, the software lacked commercial support. These two factors kept small businesses from adopting it, because they lacked an IT staff with the expertise needed to use Linux.
As the operating system matured and became easier to use, more vendors built commercially supported versions of open source software. Today Linux is increasingly attractive to small businesses, according to Ray Boggs, vice president of small-and-medium business research at IDC.
The lower purchase price is part of the appeal, but so too is the flexibility and choice made possible through open source solutions, he said. Ease of acquisition and installation will also play a key role in converting small business interest into small business purchases.
With Open Workgroup Suite SBE, Novell takes a large step toward making it easier for small business owners to make the switch. Instead of having to research, select and deploy each of the software components they need to run their business, everything they need comes preloaded. But you don't have to make the full leap to Linux. You can also access the collaboration and productivity applications through a Mac or Windows PC. Linux is, however, a major driving factor.
We are definitely seeing an increasing interest in Linux, said Barney. Small businesses are seeing that they can get the functionality they need for much, much less. You get ninety percent of the functionality for ten percent of the price, which makes it very attractive.
But the price advantage matters only if the product has the same level of usability as Windows. With early desktop Linux releases, this was a problem. While those versions gave programmers a lot of flexibility in designing custom desktops, most people were interested in running their business, not optimizing their software. To address this issue, Novell videotaped people working on desktop computers, studied how they actually interacted with their computers, and then incorporated what they found into the company's latest version of desktop Linux.
We wanted to make applications that respond to the way people really use their computers rather than the way engineers think people ought to use them," said Barney. SUSE Linux desktop is much more user-friendly than desktop Linux has been in the past."