Novell released a major update to its flagship open source server product, SuSE Linux Enterprise 10, and rolled out new desktop, groupware and identity management products at its Brainshare user conference last week.
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Analysts said the new products mean Novell is now offering a stronger alternative to Microsoft than in previous years, but it is unlikely to attract many enterprise users away from its competitor just yet.
The new version of SuSE Linux Enterprise features many popular open source tools and technologies, making it a cost-effective alternative to other enterprise server operating platforms.
For example, the Linux-based virtualisation tool Xen allows IT departments to consolidate workloads onto a single server to reduce IT costs and utilise spare server capacity. Novell is the first enterprise Linux supplier to incorporate Xen and is some months ahead of Red Hat, which is expected to do the same.
Enterprise 10 also has Novell Apparmor, an open source security suite that covers the desktop and server environments and individual enterprise applications.
In addition, Enterprise 10 features high-availability storage and clustering technologies such as Oracle Cluster File System 2, and Enterprise Volume Manager. Plus there is a suite of development tools, including the widely used Mono, to build new applications based on Linux.
For the desktop, Novell has produced a new version of its Linux desktop operating system, which shares features of both Mac OS and Windows, and is easy to use, according to analysts.
Novell demonstrated new security and identity management technologies to help companies automate identity provisioning, simplify single sign-on, and manage shared network resources. New versions of Securelogin, Storage Manager and Designer for Novell Identity Manager were released.
The shrinking number of Netware users also received good news at Brainshare as Novell chief executive Jack Messman said the firm would support Netware until "at least 2015".
Richard Edwards, research analyst at Butler Group, said, "Novell is still struggling to find direction, and is being squeezed by Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and WebEx on one side, and IBM, Sun, HP and Red Hat on the other.
"Novell's best bet is to service its existing customers, grow its share of the Linux mid-market space, and to make a play for emerging markets where Microsoft is currently struggling."
Laurent Lachal, senior analyst at Ovum, said, "Will Novell be able to snatch customers from the jaws of Microsoft? Not in droves, but they have shown they are building up their capability and are not standing still. They have an increasingly attractive proposition at many levels."
He added that Novell has a strong UK user base, with customers including the NHS, ITV, Leeds City Council and other local authorities.
"I spoke to the NHS and they thought that Novell had got its act together and was much more focused. The users have much more faith in the company than they had four years ago," said Lachal.
Last December, the NHS signed a £22m contract with Novell for a new identity management, application management and Linux-based server infrastructure.
The three-year deal is part of the wider NHS Connecting for Health programme, and lets the NHS use Novell software to support the organisation's infrastructure, covering more than 600,000 workstations.
Leeds City Council uses a range of Novell Linux-based applications, including Netware 6.5, Zenworks, Edirectory, and Identity Manager with iChain.
Novell offers new low-cost package
At Brainshare, Novell unveiled a low-cost desktop and server software suite based on Open Enterprise Server and Groupwise for Linux.
The Linux Open Workgroup Suite includes management tools (Novell Zenworks Suite), e-mail (Netware), collaboration (Groupwise), and Novell's version of Openoffice.
The office suite allows users to run many Microsoft Excel spreadsheet macros - a feature that was previously lacking.
The bundle costs £63 per device or user for a perpetual licence. In addition, users can upgrade any component of the suite when a new version is available, independent of any other component.
Novell makes sense for ITV
Television network ITV is a large Novell user, and has migrated its Unix datacentre systems to Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Server.
The company also uses Open Enterprise Server, a Novell identity and access management system, and Novell Zenworks.
It runs many critical Unix and Oracle applications on the Novell infrastructure.
Nick Leake, director of operations and infrastructure at ITV, said, "For us, running Linux in our enterprise datacentre makes a lot of sense. It gives us high levels of reliability and performance, as well as a low running cost."