Novell this week begins shipping a desktop version of Linux that is designed for business and home users and comes with a bundled set of open-source applications as well as technical support, training and consulting options.

The rollout of Novell Linux Desktop 9 follows a similar desktop release by Red Hat last spring and furthers the efforts of Linux vendors to give users more viable client-level alternatives to Windows.

Until now, Novell offered a desktop product only for Linux enthusiasts and open-source developers. Three users who are familiar with the existing software said they welcome the release of the business-oriented version but aren't sure whether their companies will install Novell Linux Desktop 9 on more than one or two machines.

"We've been looking at Linux for a long time as a cost savings over Windows," said Joe Poole, manager of technical support at Boscov's, a 41-store retail chain in the USA. Linux-based desktop systems are especially alluring for use in the back offices of stores, "where we don't need specially written applications," Poole said.

But Poole noted that many of the 9,500 workers at Boscov's are dependent on Windows applications, such as a homegrown program that's written in Visual Basic and used by 120 merchandise buyers.

"It's a critical app, and until it's rewritten in Java, it's going to continue to require a Windows OS," he said.

Tom Pratt, information systems manager at Coastal Transportation in Seattle, uses Novell's enthusiast-aimed SuSE Linux Professional 9.2 desktop software but keeps a Windows 2000 machine nearby for applications that don't support Linux. Pratt said he likes his Linux system but would have reservations about requiring workers to give up Windows, partly because of the different look and feel.

"Technically, it would be easy to switch to Linux," Pratt said. "But it would be hard for users to adapt, and that would provide no real advantage."

Novell Linux Desktop 9 is built on the base technology used in the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 operating system, which Novell acquired along with the existing desktop version when it bought SUSE Linux in January.

Novell is bundling's desktop applications, the Mozilla Web browser and other software into the desktop Linux release. But the company is "not going after the Windows power user," Haeger said. "We're not trying to get into a big David-and-Goliath battle with Windows."

Greg Rosenberg, chief technology officer at Ricis, a Novell reseller in Illinois, beta-tested the Linux software for six months with input from four of his customers. For the kind of applications that Novell is targeting, the initial release is about 85 percent of the way there, he said. He added that Novell needs to add support for 1,200-dpi printers, among other enhancements.