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SuSE Delivers Business Desktop Linux

SuSE Aims for Elusive Desktop Target

  • June 16, 2003
  • By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

SuSE has been planning their business around business-class Linux servers for years so it should come as no surprise that when they finally offer a Linux just for the desktop, SuSE Linux Desktop (SLD), it comes targeted at enterprises with a product price of $598 for the SLD installation kit and a 12-month SuSE maintenance program for up to five workstations. SLD also has a five-year support life cycle. This is a desktop Linux for CIOs, not individual users.

Richard Seibt, CEO of SuSE Linux, makes this clear, "We believe this is the product that will bring Linux to enterprise desktops across the whole world."

But will CIOs buy it? Dan Kusnetzky, IDC vice president for system software research, thinks SuSE has a "reasonable plan" and "a combination of desktop operating system and applications that's good enough to do the job."

Kusnetzky explains that businesses tend to have knowledge workers, who work with office applications, or transactional workers, who work with one or two business process applications like a DBMS or an accounting program. The key for a successful operating system for both has everything to do with the operating system supporting their application.

For the first group, SuSE supplies not only the free OpenOffice 1.0.2, but it big, commercial brother Sun's StarOffice 6.0. But, perhaps more compelling for most offices, SLD also comes with CodeWeavers' CrossOver Office 2.0.

With CrossOver Office, office workers can use the applications they already know from Windows such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint from Office 97 to XP as well as MS Outlook, Visio 2000, and non-Microsoft applications like Lotus Notes and Adobe PhotoShop.

As for transactional workers, Kusnetzky notes that many data-entry applications are now accessed by a Web browser. "For users like this, any operating system that supports a Web browser, JavaScript, and any applets they might need, is good enough.

Another plus, Kusnetzky notes, is that SLD may let offices run desktop machines for longer since Linux doesn't demand the hardware upgrades needed to keep up with Windows desktop operating systems. For a company that's counting IT pennies, this could be a real win.

SuSE's Holger Dyroff, General Manager for the Americas, also makes a point of saying that SLD is "optimized with the server for seamless integration and administration." This is an important point, Kusnetzky observes, since "many CIOs are afraid they don't have staff that's capable of managing Linux."

Since SLD is built on the SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 8, they share common code bases and administration and management tools. In addition, AutoYaST (Yet Another Setup Toolkit) and SuSE YOU (YaST Online Update), SuSE administrators can automatically update clients across the enterprise in a way that's very similar to how Windows administrators maintain machines today.

Looking ahead, SLD uses KDE "Desktop Sharing" for desktop remote control for remote management jobs. In the future, SuSE also plans to use a Smart Client (Web Service-based programs) framework and Ximian Red Carpet Enterprise to make remote management even easier.

SuSE has also gotten serious business hardware support behind SLD. IBM and SuSE are in the final stages of certifying the IBM ThinkPads A31 and T40 and IBM NetVista desktop for SLD. Dyroff also said that while these won't be shipping with SLD at the moment-for now you must still install SLD yourself or have a reseller do it for you-he expects that pre-installed SLD business laptops and desktops will be arriving in the future.

IBM may not even be the first to sell SLD-equipped PCs. Martin Fink, HP's vice president of Linux, says, "SuSE Linux Desktop on HP desktops and workstations marks the next stage in the evolution of the Linux operating system. Users will get the price/performance advantage of Linux on one flexible and efficient platform to run enterprise-level applications on their desktops and one vendor--HP--to support them along the way."

The one fly in SLD's soup might be the battle between SCO and IBM and other Linux companies. Dyroff insists though that SuSE, which supports Univention GmbH's injunction against SCO acting against Linux, will continue to support Linux come what may and that UnitedLinux, which provides SLD's codebase, will go forward with or without other partners.

That matter aside though, SuSE may finally have the first winning corporate Linux desktop. Eventually, Dyroff says, there will be a consumer version of SLD-for now end-users have the SuSE Professional Linux 8.2, which is more of a "all the bells and whistles" Linux distribution--but for now SuSE and SLD is focused on getting the Linux desktop in to business.

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