Today, the cheap revolution is focused on back-end data centers, where big shops are replacing expensive Unix servers with clusters of low-cost Linux-on-Intel machines. But phase two of the Linux revolution is targeting user desktops.
Linux today has less than 2% market share on the desktop. That’s because with past versions of Linux only hackers could get Linux installed and running right. But a new batch of easier-to-use versions is putting Linux within reach of regular folks.
And Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) is helping the cause. Running a Windows desktop PC has become increasingly annoying for users who must cope with spyware, adware, viruses, security patches, upgrades, crashes, reboots.
The next version of Windows, called Vista, has suffered years of delays. It promises to bring more, not less, complexity and will require an expensive high-end PC with super-fast processor and gobs of memory.
Microsoft rival Novell (nasdaq: NOVL - news - people ) hopes customers will consider an alternative: the SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, or SLED. It’s fast, reliable, runs on any PC and costs only $50, versus an expected $200 for Vista.
SLED also is less vulnerable to viruses, since hackers usually target Windows, which represents 95% of all PCs, and don’t bother making viruses for Linux.
This souped-up SLED comes bundled with free Open Office applications, which can handle documents created with Microsoft Word and Excel; a music player that recognizes your iPod; and a program for downloading photos. SLED’s coolest feature is a “cube” desktop that holds multiple desktop views, and spins from one to the next.
“I’m confident that once people pilot this software and compare us to Windows, this is the winner,” says Jeffrey Jaffe, chief technology officer at Novell, in Waltham, Mass.