Novell has launched the next version of its desktop Linux OS, a release the company hopes will begin a "viral" migration from Windows in the next several years, said Jeff Jaffe, chief technology officer for Novell.

Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 (SLED 10) is the first version of Novell's desktop Linux that is "good enough" for enterprises to replace Windows in more than just limited deployments, Jaffe said.

"Our new SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop now meets the needs of the basic office worker," he said.

Jaffe acknowledged that desktop Linux has barely made a dent in the enterprise, though a migration from Windows to Linux on enterprise desktops has been predicted for years. However, he said that he expects enterprise pilots of SLED 10 to begin in earnest in late 2006.

Then, once companies realise how painlessly they can integrate a Linux desktop into an enterprise dominated by Windows, the trend to use Linux alongside or to replace Windows in the enterprise should catch fire by 2008, Jaffe said.

"I don’t think mass migrations will come until 2007, maybe 2008, but this is the year to really prepare for it," he said.

Nat Friedman, vice president of Linux desktop engineering for Novell, demonstrated SLED 10, which appears to share many of the same features as early test versions of Windows Vista, the next major upgrade to Windows, expected to ship at the end of the year.

SLED 10 will be available by late September, Jaffe said.

Novell created a new 3-D graphical user interface for SLED 10, which is similar in appearance to the interface Microsoft has demonstrated in Vista in that it allows for 3-D manoeuvring of Windows on the desktop. It also allows users to make windows transparent so they can see what is in the background while working on another application in the full screen.

Friedman said that Novell had also created new features to fix some of the common problems Linux on the desktop has had in the past. For instance, the company has created a new plug-and-play mechanism for SLED 10 that immediately recognises hardware devices and allows users to work with them much in the same way that Windows does.

Jaffe said it has not lined up any hardware partners yet to ship SLED 10 on their PCs and laptops, but he expects those will come once the system is available.

"Part of [hardware vendor adoption] is to get the message out that the Linux desktop is going to happen," he said. "All the hardware OEMs are going to listen carefully to that message."