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Novell, Dell Still Talking Linux Preloads On PCs

Novell believes it can hit a pricing sweet spot with Linux on the enterprise desktop and remains in talks with top OEMs -- including Dell -- about preloading SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 on PC clients.

"We continue to have conversations with Dell about preloading Linux, as we have had with other major hardware OEM vendors," said Justin Steinman, director of product marketing at Novell. He didn't name other companies or indicate how close the talks were to reaching fruition.

Steinman also said the Waltham, Mass.-based software maker is on track to update SLED 10 with service pack one "earlier than later" in its current quarter. The update will offer enhancements to the desktop Linux OS launched last year.

News of Novell's Linux preload efforts come a day after Dell said it plans to preload Ubuntu Linux on some PCs. The Round Rock, Texas, computer giant aims to position itself as the first tier-one vendor to offer a factory preload of Linux.

Steinman said he believes Dell's choice of Ubuntu for its first Linux desktops was aimed at meeting requests from technical and enthusiast users, whereas Novell is focusing on the mainstream enterprise PC with SLED 10.

"We think Linux on the desktop is primarily an enterprise play now, which is where Novell is putting our marketing, sales and development efforts," Steinman said. "You need to have enterprise-quality support, a history of delivering enterprise support."

A question that Dell left unanswered was pricing for both the hardware and support for the Ubuntu Linux-based clients. Linux workstations now on the market from IBM and Sun Microsystems, for example, carry a street price of about $4,000 and $5,000, respectively. A demo Linux system that Dell said Chairman and CEO Michael Dell has added to his PC collection would likely have a street price of more than $3,000.

"I think there is definitely a sweet spot," Steinman said. "He's Michael Dell. He can get any hardware he wants. If and when we do a Linux desktop preload, we'll make sure it's at a price point that's affordable for the enterprise desktop space."

Solution providers said they believe a Ubuntu offering from Dell would not target the meat-and-potatoes commercial market.

"I don't think it will be going into the corporate space," said Ken Mclaurin, senior marketing manager of open source and virtualization services at Akibia, a Westborough, Mass.-based solution provider. "Where Dell sells is primarily on end-user desktops, so I think they're responding to a market need."

John Eaton, president of EatonAssociates, a Linux solution provider in San Francisco, agreed. "It helps position Ubuntu as more mainstream, [since] such a large player has effectively blessed it. So it will likely be helpful over time," Eaton said. "But we are not planning on preselling these models at this point."

Ranga Rangachari, CEO of GroundWork Open Source, a San Francisco-based ISV, said he has seen some of his customers use Ubuntu in addition to Red Hat or Novell SUSE, but a Linux preload deal with Dell would have no impact on the channel.

"The channel is not that involved in the relationship between the user and Dell," Rangachari said. "The only channels that can benefit from this would be the folks who are focused on the SOHO market and can provide the expertise and capabilities for applications on desktop Linux."

Frank Basanta, director of technology at System Solutions, New York, questioned Dell's commitment to Linux and the platform's prospects on the desktop.

"Dell has always been on again, off again, when it came to Linux," Basanta said. "We don't see this impacting our business. The majority of our sales come from servers."

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