Novell's New Desktop-to-Server Software Suite

By Drew Robb | Posted November 26, 2007

If you're looking for an alternative to Microsoft for running your small business, Novell, Inc, may have the answer you seek. Last month, the company introduced the Novell Open Workgroup Suite Small Business Edition, a Linux-based program that includes desktop and server operating systems, management tools, an office productivity suite, collaboration software and numerous applications.

“The suite was specifically tailored to meet the needs of businesses and other organizations of up 200 employees,” said Novell spokesperson Kevan Barney. “These small organizations have similar needs to big organizations, but don't have the same resources to acquire the software and administer it.”

And, at a cost of only $350 for a five-person/single-server license (plus $125 for one year's maintenance), it costs less than the retail cost for a single copy Microsoft Office Small Business Edition.

Leaning on Linux
The key to Open Workgroup's low price is the use of open-source rather than proprietary software. Linux use has grown tremendously over the past decade, particularly in research institutions and large enterprises.

Initially Linux was something only a programmer could love. It was a fast, secure and easily customizable operating system, but it lacked the intuitive features needed by most people who want to just sit down at their desk and get to work. In addition, since it was open source, the software lacked commercial support. These two factors kept small businesses from adopting it, because they lacked an IT staff with the expertise needed to use Linux.

As the operating system matured and became easier to use, more vendors built commercially supported versions of open source software. Today Linux is increasingly attractive to small businesses, according to Ray Boggs, vice president of small-and-medium business research at IDC.

“The lower purchase price is part of the appeal, but so too is the flexibility and choice made possible through open source solutions,” he said. “Ease of acquisition and installation will also play a key role in converting small business interest into small business purchases.”

With Open Workgroup Suite SBE, Novell takes a large step toward making it easier for small business owners to make the switch. Instead of having to research, select and deploy each of the software components they need to run their business, everything they need comes preloaded. But you don't have to make the full leap to Linux. You can also access the collaboration and productivity applications through a Mac or Windows PC. Linux is, however, a major driving factor.

“We are definitely seeing an increasing interest in Linux,” said Barney. “Small businesses are seeing that they can get the functionality they need for much, much less. You get ninety percent of the functionality for ten percent of the price, which makes it very attractive.”

But the price advantage matters only if the product has the same level of usability as Windows. With early desktop Linux releases, this was a problem. While those versions gave programmers a lot of flexibility in designing custom desktops, most people were interested in running their business, not optimizing their software. To address this issue, Novell videotaped people working on desktop computers, studied how they actually interacted with their computers, and then incorporated what they found into the company's latest version of desktop Linux.

“We wanted to make applications that respond to the way people really use their computers rather than the way engineers think people ought to use them," said Barney. “SUSE Linux desktop is much more user-friendly than desktop Linux has been in the past."

Primary Features
The Novell Open Workgroup Suite Small Business Edition was designed to include a complete set of applications that a small business would need to manage most of its operations. The suite contains five main elements:

Novell Open Enterprise Server hosts file and print services. It also lets companies set up virtual offices and virtual teams, host Web sites and remotely manage desktops.

Novell GroupWise 7 is a collaboration product that provides secure e-mail and calendaring capabilities. The home view gives you your mail, calendar, contacts and tasks in a single interface. It includes PDA synchronization, spam filtering, backup, instant messaging and forwarding of e-mail to pagers. The GroupWise Mobile Server supports mobile devices from Palm, H-P, Motorola, Nokia and others.

For hosting applications that are not included in the GroupWise or Open Enterprise Server, Novell includes a copy of the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server operating system.

SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop – a desktop operating system that can be used in place of Windows on machines with 32-bit or 64-bit processors. It can also be configured for use on kiosks or cash registers. It comes with built-in desktop search, instant messaging, Firefox Web browser, photo management, music management and playback, and desktop note taking.

OpenOffice.org Novell Edition — an office productivity suite, largely compatible with Microsoft Office, that runs on Windows or Linux. Modules include word processor, database, spreadsheet, HTML editor, presentation application (similar to PowerPoint) and a drawing application. It also lets you convert documents to PDF format.

To make it more compatible with Microsoft Office than the standard version of OpenOffice, Novell has licensed fonts that have the same or similar names as those available with Microsoft Office, and which are geometrically similar to ones used by Microsoft. OpenOffice can work with any of the Microsoft Office formats except for the new .docx (Document XML) format that Office 2007 can create. Microsoft, however, has a free reader available for reading those documents.

The Suite delivers the essential components needed for any competitive business, and it also features an integrated installation process to minimize the time and cost of deployment.

Add Ons
In addition to the primary products and features listed above, the Open Workgroup Suite incorporates other optional features to aid in security and administration:

  • Backup –  Amanda Backup lets you setup a single master backup server to backup multiple hosts over the network
  • Antivirus –  Clam AntiVirus is an open source e-mail scanner
  • AntiSpam – MailScanner reduces the load of spam in e-mail systems
  • Fax and Messaging Server –  HylaFAX sends and receives facsimiles as well as sending alphanumeric pages
  • Firewall – This protects servers and desktops (leveraging the built-in capabilities of SUSE Linux Enterprise)
  • Secure Remote Connections – OpenVPN creates a full-featured and secure virtual private network (VPN) that can accommodate a range of configurations
  • Remote Assistance – TightVNC enables remote control, monitoring and interaction of any client computer on a network

Summary
The Novell Open Workgroup Suite Small Business Edition includes most of the software that a small company needs for conducting its basic operations, at a price much lower than proprietary solutions. You'll find more information on Novell's small business site.

Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.

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