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New SUSE Linux Features New Interface, More Mono Apps

Focusing on the User Experience

  • March 24, 2006
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

While Novell conducts video-enabled usability tests of new GUIs, the company's partners are implementing Mono, a cross-platform development environment built into the new SUSE Linux 10, along with other tools to create applications and hardware drivers for current and future editions of Novell's Linux desktop.

In an interview with LinuxPlanet, Chris Cooper, director of partner engineering in Novell's Developer Services arm, noted that Mono has already been used to produce Beagle, a new "natural language" search tool. Like Mono, Beagle also makes its debut with Novell in SUSE Linux 10, a new desktop product released during this week's BrainShare.

Meanwhile, though, third-party ISVs and IHVs are now working with Novell's Developer Services on hardware support and application migration for both desktop and server Linux, according to Cooper.

Over the past 18 months, Novell engineers have also been conducting usability tests for new GUIs targeted at both the SUSE Linux 10 product and the forthcoming SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10 unveiled earlier this month at Cebit.

The GUI tests are being carried out among end users who have never worked with Linux before, said Brad Younge, Novell's director of product management for the Linux desktop, in another interview.

Novell is using video to capture the user experience from three different angles: facial expression (such as "perplexity"), hand movements on the keyboard or mouse. and screenshots of what is happening on the desktop.

Younge told LinuxPlanet that although the new UIs are based on GNOME, Novell has also been contributing both the source code and usability test results to the Linux community for possible use by outside developers in producing similar features for KDE.

SUSE Linux 10 represents both a major upgrade to and a rebranding of Novell Desktop Linux, Novell's previous desktop product for "Linux enthusiasts."

On the other hand, SLED 9--the successor to Novell Linux Desktop 9--will be tailored to large enterprises, with end users who might include not just knowledge workers but also "transactional workers" in environments such as call centers, or users who perform only "fixed functions" on the desktop.

The Mono environment appearing in SUSE Linux 10 is the result of a Novell-sponsored open source project to develop and run .NET client and server applications on Linux, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Solaris, and other flavors of Unix.

Beagle, the new feature in SUSE Linux 10 that's built with Mono, is meant to meet user requests for a search engine that can conduct simultaneous searches across e-mails, instant messages, and desktop applications, for instance.

"Users often tell us that although they know they've seen something about a subject, they're not sure where to find it on their desktops," said Younge.

Aside from Mono and Beagle, other capabilities in SUSE Linux 10 include OpenOffice.org 2.0; Firefox 1.0; VoIP; GIMP 2.2; photo tools; wireless networking; and support for Bluetooth, Apache, CUPS, and MySQL.

"But I think we're a little farther ahead with some things on SUSE Linux 10 (than on) SLED 10," Cooper told LinuxPlanet.

Novell has not yet gone public with all the capabilities to be included in SLED 10. But in its press release for the upcoming enterprise edition, the company does promise a new UI, among other things.

The new GUI for SUSE Linux 10 offers a "more intuitive" user interface than that of previous Linux desktops from Novell, according to Younge. "You can now right-click on an object to get a list of properties," he said. Also, the new release is designed to automatically discover new desktop hardware.

On the third-party development side, ISVs and IHVs of various sizes are now working with Novell's Developer Services to migrate existing software applications to Linux server and desktop environments, promote better hardware support, and certify third-party products for use with SUSE Linux, Cooper said.

In terms of migration, Novell is targeting a number of vertical markets, along with some horizontal areas--such as data centers--which have been specifically requested by customers.

Generally speaking, third-party applications based on J2EE are proving much easier to port to Linux than legacy software written in C or C++, according to Cooper. "But there's never been an application we couldn't port," he contended.

Some of Novell's developer partners are also using Mono to create applications, according to Younge. "But I'm not sure what the proportions would be," he added.

"We're also doing a lot with driver support," Cooper told LinuxPlanet. For example, a vendor called Nvidea has worked with Novell for some time to produce driver support for its graphics acceleration software.

But why will the name of Novell's enterprise desktop Linux product now start out with "SUSE Linux" instead of with Novell, as it did with Novell Linux Desktop 9?

When asked that question, Novell officials suggested that the answer revolves around a new effort toward more consistency in both naming and technology between Novell's desktop and server products for Linux.

"SLED 10 will use exactly the same kernel as SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 10," Younge told LinuxPlanet.

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