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In an effort to break some of Microsoft's stranglehold on the desktop, Novell is taking new steps in the product and pricing arenas to attract customers who want to move either gradually or quickly to Linux.
These strategies are seeing the light of day in a series of offerings unveiled at Novell's recent BrainShare show, including Novell Open Workgroup Suite; SUSE Linux 10; and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10.
These three products are partially aimed at either spurring or smoothing the transition from the Microsoft Office/Exchange environments to Linux, Novell execs said in a round of recent interviews.
"We were getting strong feedback from some of our customers and partners that they wanted us to be more aggressive on pricing," acknowledged Alan Hall, director of product marketing for workgroup, during one recent interview.
"They also wanted us to provide more combinations of products," he told LinuxPlanet.
Hall added that an earlier offering called the Novell Infrastructure Bundle provided customers "some flavor" of the combo concept, while also giving Novell a chance to test out product and pricing ideas.
But Hall also admitted that some users are a bit perplexed by the distinctions among the plethora of products launched at BrainShare.
As previously reported in LinuxPlanet, SUSE Linux 10 represents a retooling and a rebranding of Novell Desktop Linux, Novell's earlier product for desktop enthusiasts. On the other hand, SLED 10 is tailored to large enterprise environments that might include knowledge workers in addition to workers in "fixed function" jobs and "transactional workers" in places such as call centers.
Through its Developer Services arm, Novell is trying to spawn development of more applications and drivers that will make Novell's desktop Linux products more competitive with Microsoft Office, said Chris Cooper, Novell's director of product engineering.
At the same time, Novell's Developer Services is also working with partners to port, test, and certify more applications for the Novell Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) environment.
In another interview, Cooper told LinuxPlanet that Novell first launched Developer Services with only 47 ISV and hardware vendor partners, prior to the company's acquisition of SUSE Linux.
"Today we have over 1,000 partners, and we're adding 10 or more a week," according to Cooper. "SUSE had a certification program (before the acquisition). But it didn't scale all that well. We've automated that by creating test suites that allow vendors to self-certify (for SUSE Linux and NetWare)."
Novell's upcoming SLED 10 desktop product will support both Novell GroupWise and Microsoft Exchange messaging environments, said Brad Younge, director of product management for the Linux desktop.
SLED will include the Linux edition of OpenOffice 2.0, along with features such as a new user interface, fast boot technology, improved power management and suspend, enhanced wireless device integration, Bluetooth support, and enhanced application security through Novell's new AppArmor technology.
Younge noted that 2.0 is also the first edition of OpenOffice to support OpenDocument, a standard maintained by the open source community.
Users of OpenOffice.org 2.0 will be able to save and and open documents created in Microsoft Office formats including Excel pivot tables, he said.
The Evolution e-mail client, also built into SLED, will come with an integrated connector for Exchange. Also under way is access to Lotus Notes e-mail, applications and databases through a forthcoming Lotus Notes Application plug-in for IBM Workplace Client Technology.
The Novell edition of OpenOffice,org will also give support a hefty number of Visual Basic macros, in the interests of better interoperability with Microsoft Office.
For its part, SUSE Linux 10 will come with Banchee driver support, for example, in addition to first-time support for Mono, a crossplatform development environment for .NET, Java, Python, and other applications, said Younge.
The other new capabilities include Firefox 1.0; VoIP GIMP 2.2; photo tools; wireless networking; a preview of Xen 3 virtualization; and support for Bluetooth, Apache, CUPS, and MySQL
The larger Open Workgroup Suite product will come in two options, according to Hall. Option One is for organizations that have already decided to move their IT infrastructure to Linux. In contrast, Option Two permits a mix of NetWare and Linux servers.
Both options include Open Enterprise Server; GroupWise; Zenworks Suite; and two desktop offerings: Novell Linux Desktop 9 (the predecessor to the just released SUSE Linux 10), and OpenOffice.org for Windows.
In Option One of Novell Open Workgroup Suite, Open Enterprise Server and GroupWise are each licensed for Linux only, with no licensing for NetWare. But in Option Two, all products in the suite are licensed for both Linux and NetWare.
"Some people are moving their whole companies to Linux. Others still have dependencies (on NetWare and Windows). But for these companies, we're eliminating the need to license Microsoft Office. Many companies are applauding this move," Hall told LinuxPlanet.
To give organizations an extra incentive to move to Linux, Option One is getting lower pricing. In Option One, the software is licensable for $110 - plus an optional maintenance fee of $75 - per user or device.
In comparison, pricing for Option Two is $150 per user or device, with an optional maintenance fee of $150. In both cases, you need to pay the maintenance fee to get updates or support for the two desktop suites.
Hall told LinuxPlanet that Novell will use a "rental option" as another prong in its campaign against the Windows desktop.
The concept has some precedent in the three-year "enterprise agreements" that Microsoft itself uses with corporate accounts, he contended.
Novell, however, will allow yearly software rentals, priced significantly lower on an annual basis than Microsoft's agreements, according to the product marketing director.
Also at Brainshare, Novell sketched out two follow-on server products to the new SLES 10: Cypress, due out in mid-2007, and Ponderosa, pondered for release some time afterward.
"But Cypress is going to be focused around tighter integration with Windows and NetWare. We're also going to continue hardening iPrint, for example," said Troy White, Novell's product manager for OES (Open Enterprise Server), during another interview.
"In Ponderosa, there will be improvements to the workgroup platform and the file system."
In press materials, Novell mentioned plans for Cypress that include server virtualization, support for AMD and Intel x86-64-bit processors, and the use of Kerberos for integration between Microsoft Active Directory and Novell eDirectory.
The company also cited intentions in Ponderosa for "improving the productivity of knowledge workers."
But White told LinuxPlanet that the announcements of Cypress and Ponderosa were made mainly "just to give customers a taste of what we're thinking about" for the future, and to assure the industry of Novell's long-term commitment to SLES.
This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.com.