Linux in Government: Linux Desktop Reviews, Part 2 - Novell Linux Desktop

Focusing on the best desktop candidates for deployment in enterprises; taking a look at Novell Linux Desktop 9.

When you look into the Novell Linux Desktop (NLD), you find a product that fits an analyst's picture of a mature open-source model. Last week, we asked some hard questions about that model with regards to Xandros and were left wondering. When you ask the same questions of Novell, the answers come out positive:

  • What kind of support organization does Novell offer related to users? If you run into a problem, can you contact someone for help? How, over the phone or by e-mail?

  • How big is Novell's support organization? Does the company out-source its support?

  • Does Novell have a professional services organization? If someone wants to buy a large number of desktops, how would Novell handle a big order?

  • Novell offers documentation for the user. How about technical documentation, is there anything for the administrator?

  • What kind of solution/provider ecosystem exists? Does Novell have resellers? How robust is that reseller organization?

  • What is Novell's server strategy? Does the company provide back-office functionality and identity management?

  • What tools exist for rolling out and managing the desktops? Does the company offer on-site training?

  • How can administrators and help-desk people learn to provide desk-side support in their own companies? Does curriculum exist?

In the event you have little experience with Novell, you should find that the company covers all the bases, from top to bottom. From the desktop point of view, we are left to wonder who has an open-source model that approaches Novell? A quick visit to the Novell Web site leads to a case study of Jefferson County that answers many of the above questions for you.

Novell has a long history of providing support, training, back-office functionality, innovation in managing desktops and networks and a significant partner ecosystem. Since the company embraced the open-source model with the purchase of SUSE and Ximian, it has transformed the open-source model into one of maturity.

Eating Their Own Cooking

In sum, the Novell Linux Desktop represents the product the company has chosen for its own use. In an article in Computer Business Review Online, we learn that "Novell has entered phase two of its Open Desktop Initiative to roll out Linux as the desktop operating system for its 6,000 internal employees, with plans to get 100% of them using Linux by the end of May."

In the same article, we learn:

The Waltham, Massachusetts-based software vendor's Linux desktop migration began in 2004 and overachieved on its phase-one goals, (according to CIO Debra Anderson.)

"This year we're moving more aggressively," Anderson said. "We want to get 100% of Novell on a Linux desktop, including dual-boot, and the second part is to drive a single Linux image and have 80% by the end of the year turn off Windows."

The company has already made the open source productivity suite its default office suite ahead of schedule, and now has 83% of employees actively using it on a daily basis. A voluntary migration also saw the company beat its goal to get 50% of users onto Linux by the end of October 2004.

Under the Novell scenario, Microsoft becomes a small niche player in the desktop space. Looking at functionality and feature lists, most serious analysts actually would place Microsoft in such a niche role. When less than 10% of an enterprise uses the features included in a Microsoft desktop, why would the remaining 90% be required to use the same platform?

Using Novell Linux Desktop 9

I wrote my first review on NLD9 on November 15, 2004, shortly after the release of the evaluation version became available on Novell's Web site. Our group then began to pilot the product, using it in comparison to another Linux desktop offering that was built similarly. In short, we lived with NLD for approximately five months, and we found NLD to be suitable for desktop use in the home as well as in the office.

Of the desktop offerings we have piloted, NLD offered the broadest range of functionality in what we designated as the desktop and mobility space. From the desktop point of view, the system provides a user-friendly environment, ease of administration and an excellent enhancement of the productivity suite.

We also found NLD to provide a superior laptop experience. For example, Novell calls one of its premiere laptop features netapplet. For mobile users, netapplet allows for rapid transfer from numerous wireless access points, a feature that compelled one of my colleagues to stay with NLD on his IBM Thinkpad. In addition, we found that we could utilize VoIP with Skype on NLD effectively. We utilized the Linux SUSE9 download and immediately began reaping benefits on our Internet phones.



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NLD is not stable...

Anonymous's picture

I've been trying NLD9 extensively in a pilot project, and personally I think this distro is a disaster. The product lacks a lot of packages which are really needed (pam_mount for example is a must if you want to connect your business users to their network shares, there's no (k)vpnc,...), also multimedia support is below par (xine was stripped from the open source WMA and WMV ffmpeg decoders, there's only MP3 support in RealPlayer, no usable multimedia plug-in for Firefox, like mplayerplug-in).

And worst of all, the product still contains a lot of visible bugs, even now at this moment, six months after its original release. To name a few: the use of dead keys hang KDE applications such as Konqueror, KDEs file chooser does not use the correct charset when your locale is ISO-8858-*, USB Mass Storage Devices with FAT partitions are mounted UTF-8, making all file names with special characters written in windows garbled and the file system case sensitive, i18n support is much worse than other distro's (with latest OOo security upgrade, even several languages which were only added in Novells SP1, were removed again), RealPlayer starts copying all files in your homedir to a temporary subdirectory if you start it from the KDE menu because of a bug in RealPlayers launch script,...

On several of these issues, support has confirmed that there is indeed a problem, but there are no bug fixes more than a month after my reports, neither do I have any news wether these bugs actually will be fixed.

I'll be looking to Centos in the future, at least it won't cost anything, and will also have years of updates. With KDE 3.3, it will also solve some of the small issues related to the older KDE 3.2 in NLD, and hopefully it will also be a bit less buggy in general.

I really have the feeling that Novell has rushed out this distro to become the first one before RHEL4 and MDK Corporate 3. I cannot understand why the reviewer has such a positive review about the distro.

This guy bounces from distro

Anonymous's picture

This guy bounces from distro to distro and never remains consistent with what he thinks is the best disrto. I think he just likes to hear himself talk.

take-no-logic-ally I don't

Anonymous's picture

take-no-logic-ally I don't know,
but it looks carefully hand-crafted..... elle est belle.


Anonymous's picture

After 90 days, the my NLD system cannot even surf the net. May be my installation is not correctly down.


AdamW's picture

How can you possibly write a review of NLD without *once* even *mentioning* Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Mandrakelinux Corporate? This is a product competing in a clearly defined and easily covered marketplace, it wouldn't have taken much effort to make at least a small mention of its competition!


tadelste's picture

In case you missed it, this is a series. We're covering RHEL Desktop in Part III. With regard to Mandrake, I do not believe it qualifies as an enterprise desktop.

Mandrake is not an enterprise

Anonymous's picture

Mandrake is not an enterprise desktop? Well, they themselves thinks otherwise, and this desktop has been deployed in France by the goverment / public services.

"Mandrakesoft brings to the enterprise its renowned expertise in Desktop Linux. Now, for Office productivity, Business of all sizes can rely on ease of use, streamlined and intuitively organized software package, as well as leading applications of their kind in every field."

Mandrake is not enterprise; b

Anonymous's picture

Mandrake is not enterprise; but Ubuntu *Bongo bongo* linux sure is.

Linux Novell's Linux Desktop NLD

Anonymous's picture

The site says that it is an evaluation version. updates and support expire after 90 days. how dumb. who is going to reinstall an OS and all the apps and find out about a security or stability problem in 91 days that can't be fixed. Doesn't seem to make much sense to me.

Evaluation version

Aaron's picture

If you buy a license, you'll get an activation key and can use that to continue the update service for a year. You don't have to reinstall.

Also it's a full version-- just with 90 days of free updates.

review vs. production

Anonymous's picture

The reviewer's using the evaluation copy; a business will buy a support contract. They want somewhere to point fingers when a problem comes up. The functionality looks good here, when will the corporate market wise up? 90% of the workforce doesn't need a full Windows+Office build on their desk, why pay for it? Try it in some call-center setting where they're doing green-screen emulation anyway, or a browser-based app where the OS underneath isn't a consideration.

How dumb

Anonymous's picture

I can see your point. But, the whole distro sells for something like $48 for a one year subscription. You can dual boot it - that's built in.

You can even keep it and find an alternate "free" update service - like

It's just an article and a review, why do people have to always vote on everything?

I doesn't cost you anything to read,

Try that and you'll not be du

Anonymous's picture

Try that and you'll not be dumb! You dont need to reinstall the OS, PAY a litte! Help OSS community. Linux is not Free, how can we live forward? All Linux distros are the same, you should pay for support; or donate for us to continue improving linux! Fix it yourself if you want FREE same as other distros! I you have friends that will help you, buy them free BEER and say thanks! Well.. that's maybe another form of paying.

Welcome in real world.

Anonymous's picture

Welcome in real world.


Anonymous's picture

Welcome to the hell