HP, Novell Team on Desktop Linux

A week after announcing it was putting Linux on more of its desktop machines for the Asian market, HP made bigger waves this week, disclosing a deal with Novell to put SuSE Linux on the entire HP portfolio of business desktops and notebooks in North America, to be followed by other markets later.

Analysts called the deal — which is an extension of an agreement that put SuSE Linux on HP servers — a boon for Linux on the desktop and a bummer for Microsoft, which has counted on HP to distribute its Windows operating system almost exclusively on its PCs for years.

Novell spokesperson Bruce Lowry said the expanded relationship with HP “fits perfectly well” with other announcements the company has made at its BrainShare conference in Utah this week — including a commitment of Novell resource management and file tools to open source; the company’s NetWare-SuSE Open Enterprise Server; and a deal with IBM to preload SuSE Linux on IBM eServer machines.

“It’s definitely significant because it’s really the first [Linux] announcement on the desktop space between leading enterprise vendors,” Lowry told LinuxInsider. “It’s the first time we’re trying to do this in the enterprise space.”

Multi-OS Market

HP said the joint agreement to certify and support Novell’s SuSE Linux on select HP systems is an expansion of its “multi-OS” strategy across servers and PCs. HP vice president of Linux Martin Fink said the deal made HP the first technology vendor to offer a single Linux solution “from desktop to datacenter.”

The deal will make SuSE Linux the standard Linux distribution on the HP line of business computers, with HP providing indemnification against possible litigation from SCO, which has made intellectual-property claims to Linux and has threatened and sued users of the open-source software.

Yankee Group senior analyst Dana Gardner said the indemnification issue is less significant on the desktop, but he did call the deal “a very auspicious development for Linux on the desktop.”

“Given what Sun is doing with its open-source desktop products, I think it really does open up a more enthusiastic opportunity for Linux on the desktop,” Gardner told LinuxInsider.

Hybrid Hopes

Gardner indicated Novell is in an interesting position as it looks to Linux and open source to maintain relevance while staying connected to its roots as a proprietary software company.

Novell’s Lowry stressed the company’s contributions of its SuSE Linux systems management tool, YaST, and its iFolder technology to the open-source community, indicating the company wants to “give in more than we take.”

However, Lowry said, Novell will still stick to proprietary technologies when they are better suited to solving customer needs.

“There’s definitely an element of transition, but Novell is not going from a full proprietary to a full open-source environment,” he noted. “We think the model of the future is a hybrid model. We see open source and proprietary as being very complementary.”

Spurring Sun and Dell?

Gardner said HP’s Linux desktop moves might spur other companies, particularly Sun, to push their own open-source operating systems with PC manufacturers.

“Now, suddenly, we have a couple of Linux desktop software platform providers,” he said.

The analyst added that other PC makers also might be feeling pressure to make their own moves with Linux.

“It puts some pressure on other players, such as Dell, about how deeply they’re going to take Linux on the desktop,” Gardner added.

Everybody Wins

Lowry said the Novell deal with HP is good for Linux because it will drive adoption. The deal is good for Novell, he said, because it will drive revenue for the company.

Gardner, who indicated Novell will benefit from HP’s marketing and distribution strength, said increasing competition among Linux vendors and further distribution of Linux by manufacturers will be good for all users, including Windows users.

“It may put price pressure on Microsoft,” Gardner said. “I also think it will mean higher production for desktops in general — more functionality for less money.”

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