Update: Novell's SuSE Linux Desktop Strategy

The VAR Guy

March 12, 2008

4 Min Read
Update: Novell's SuSE Linux Desktop Strategy

At first glance, Novell’s desktop Linux goals are humble. Novell insiders tell The VAR Guy they’d be pleased if SuSE Linux eventually captures 1 percent of the overall global desktop market. So, how is Novell’s desktop strategy performing so far — especially vs. Red Hat and Ubuntu? Here are key clues from two top Novell sources on the subject.

In preparation for Novell’s Brainshare conference, which kicks off March 16 in Utah, The VAR Guy spoke with Novell’s Justin Steinman, director of marketing, open platform solutions; and Michael Applebaum, senior product marketing manager, open platform solutions.

Ultimately, Novell’s strategy is to offer the best version of Linux available — from the desktop to the data center, asserts Applebaum.

On the desktop, Novell believes SuSE Linux can become a mainstream business solution for 10 percent of the price of a Windows desktop. Embrace SuSE Linux, the company says, and you’ll avoid Windows’ security headaches while continuing to perform the six tasks that fill most business users’ days:

  • Email

  • Instant messaging

  • Web browsing

  • Word processing

  • Spreadsheets

  • Presentation tasks

Novell’s desktop messaging has changed — very subtly — in recent years. Back in 2005, The VAR Guy moderated a CIO event where Novell officials said SuSE Linux was a targeted solution for selected business departments. Now, it seems, Novell is finally ready to say that many businesses can move all or the vast majority of their desktops to Linux. At least, that’s The VAR Guy’s take on the situation.

What About Linux Rivals?

Still, describing SuSE Linux’s potential cost and productivity advantages over Windows isn’t enough. Novell must also stand out from Red Hat (which has reemphasized its desktop efforts) and Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux, which has scored desktop pre-load wins with PC makers like Dell.

“Frankly, we consider Ubuntu a consumer desktop,” says Applebaum. “When you use Linux in the enterprise, you need to be able to dial 1-800 ‘someone’ for help.” Novell’s SuSE Linux team and channel partners are best positioned to offer that business help, Applebaum insists.

And what about Red Hat? “Candidly, we don’t see Red Hat on the desktop,” says Applebaum, before quipping: “But we’re still waiting. We’ve yet to encounter them [in the desktop market].” (Red Hat’s efforts to jump-start things on the desktop have hit snags.)

During the conversation, Steinman pointed to several key SuSE Linux desktop wins, including:

  • Tamil Nadu implementation that Justin referenced, there were 30,000 desktops and 2000 servers.

  • And Peugeot, which involves 20,000 desktops and 2500 servers.

Sweet wins, to be sure. And Novell’s overall desktop goals — capturing 1 percent of the market — sound humble. But that’s roughly 2.5 million PCs — based on roughly 250 million PCs shipping worldwide annually.

The fastest-way to achieving that goal is through PC pre-loads. Here, Applebaum and Steinman concede that they’re stealing a page from Microsoft’s game plan: Get PC companies to pre-load your software, and peer pressure will trigger additional vendor and customer wins.

Novell has already scored desktop pre-load wins with Lenovo in the U.S. and several other regions, and Dell in China. Applebaum and Steinman concede that they may not be ready to announce additional pre-load wins in time for Brainshare. However, roughly a dozen sessions at the big Novell customer and partner conference will focus on Novell’s overall desktop strategy.

Money Matters

Foolishly, The VAR Guy failed to ask a key question: Can Novell actually make money selling SuSE Linux desktop pre-loads? Or is this about gaining desktop mind share in order to strengthen Novell on the server? That key point of clarification, alas, will have to wait for a future phone call.

Wall Street has been watching the Novell closely. A few weeks ago, several financial analysts were pleasantly surprised when Novell raised its financial guidance for this year. But now, some of those same analysts are downgrading Novell’s stock based on the fact that there’s no “big bang” product opportunity in Novell’s near future.

Ultimately, Novell’s financial story and its desktop efforts remain a work in progress. A few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine big companies moving their desktops to SuSE Linux (or any Linux, for that matter). Apparently, Novell has managed to enlighten a few folks. And poor word of mouth about Windows Vista provides Novell with ample opportunity to push forward on the desktop, one enterprise at a time.

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