Linux on the Desktop – Novell’s Enterprise push

Greetings and Salutations,

Over the last few years, we’ve seen and heard a great many reasons to replace that windows desktop with a Linux powered desktop.

White papers have come out, business cases made, interfaces redeveloped, office packages created … each distributor has even created their own version of an enterprise desktop package.

However, I see it as one of those paradoxes that these same perpetrators of “the push” are (generally) not themselves running these systems. Well, until now that is.

With their purchase of Ximian and then SUSE, Novell has made an entry into the Linux and OpenSource markets with extreme gusto. So much so, in fact, that rumours are still circulating to what to expect next? Red Hat acquisition? Purchasing MySQL? How about Zope? Ah! Levanta!?

We’ll leave the rumour mill alone, and wait and see …

In my mind, the distinction that Novell has made is that they are actually willing to put their stock where their press releases are and make the enterprise move to Linux internally. Yeop. That’s right. They’re eating their own dog food and moving all six-odd thousand staff over to Linux desktops.

I’ll just let the significance of that sink in for a while …

Why is this a big deal? Well, let’s be honest, despite the fact that Linux as a desktop operating system is maturing, it still has a few shortcomings and general user issues (Installing Applications is complicated, Directory structures can be confusing to navigate, Interfaces are confusing and inconsistent, Steep learning curves required to understand system functions) that need to be overcome. It is unremarkable then that the vast majority of corporations are sticking with the Devil they know (and understand).

However, Novell is forging ahead. Starting back in early to mid 2004, all employees were targeted for the migration from Windows to Linux. The migration has been, by all accounts, a success, with Novell reaching their goals earlier than expected. All employees are now on a Linux desktop even dual-boot to Windows has been removed in favor of utilising VMware for Windows installation and applications requirements.

The learning curve has been steep though, with even the Professional Service Engineers and consultants battling to achieve their work while utilising new desktops and office suites (OpenOffice).

However, it’s all worth it, says the CIO Debra Anderson. She was quoted in the UK Computer Business Review Magazine (June, 2005) as saying:

We’re willing as a company to make this migration because we’re willing to learn. Although it’s challenging, I think we’re really enjoying pushing the migration, knowing what we’re knowing and learning what we’re learning. My guidance to other CIOs is to look at where there is business value. Bottom line it’s about business value. This isn’t about taking on Microsoft head on; it’s about finding the value, which could be security, it could be cost, and it could be synergies.

So far, from my side of the fence conversing with those on the ground floor of the Novell ranks, the news is generally positive.

I, for one, applaud their courage and resolve and look forward to the analysis and review at the end of the roll-out.


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