Netbooks Will Boost Adoption of Linux, Says Novell CTO

A surge in demand for netbooks is helping drive business for Linux, as the devices are designed to be low-cost with smaller storage, according to Novell's chief technology and strategy officer for Linux.

" People typically don't care what operating system is on the netbooks, because they don't buy them to run a suite of applications like Microsoft Office, but to be on the Web using a Web browser," Nat Friedman said in an interview with IDG News Service. Novell's SUSE Linux is already being pre-loaded with laptops from vendors including Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo. The company is now in negotiations with Lenovo and HP to start offering its Linux distribution on their netbooks as well, he added.

Netbooks are a new category of computing devices that are low-cost and designed for continuous Internet connectivity.

In June, Novell announced that Micro-Star International of Taiwan would pre-install SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 on its Wind netbook.

Most of the low-cost netbooks will run Linux, to avoid the higher cost of the Windows operating system, and also because most of them have about 2G bytes of flash storage, for which Linux is more suitable, Friedman said.

The benefit of pre-loaded SUSE Linux for the user is that Novell works with the computer vendor to ensure that all the Linux device drivers are there, and the user has a far better experience than if he were to try to install the operating system on a variety of hardware, Friedman said.

Making software installation easier is also a key element of Novell's software appliances strategy for servers. Installing the operating system and applications on a computer can be labor-intensive, and sometimes requires expertise, Friedman said. "This slows down the sales cycle, because if I want to sell some software, and the first step is for the user to install it and it is a difficult and long process, it makes it difficult for me to make my sale," he added.

Novell announced in April a SUSE Appliance Program to enable ISVs (independent software vendors) to create appliances combining their applications with the SUSE Linux Enterprise platform in an integrated package for end-customer deployment. Novell also announced the beta release of SUSE Linux Enterprise JeOS, a minimized version of the SUSE Linux Enterprise platform that ISVs can embed in appliances.

Competitor Red Hat has also announced a strategy around software appliances.

The operating system will become an embedded component, rather than something that the customer chooses, said Friedman. " When you buy a car you don't typically choose the engine, or what type of transmission it has," he added.

Using virtualization technology, the software bundle can work on a variety of platforms running a virtual machine, and also share hardware with other appliances, Friedman said.

The software appliances model will enable the ISV to for example create a virtual machine image which contains the application and the operating system pre-installed, and the user can take the file and run it in a one-step process on the virtual machine he has installed, Friedman said. Post-sales support issues will also get reduced, as most of them arise because the original installation was not proper, he added.

Novell has developed SUSE Studio, an online Web-based tool that enables ISVs to quickly build, configure and test software appliances, even if they don't have operating system expertise.

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