Novell is the latest company to try and gather a small share of the desktop market. The company is attempting to chip away at Microsoft dominance by releasing its Open Workgroup Suite - not a new product but a repackaging of several open-source applications and tools under new licensing terms.

Novell hopes the lower licensing fee for its software will tempt businesses to walk away from Microsoft's dominant desktop platform and try Novell.

The suite includes Novell's Open Enterprise Server (including SuSE Linux Enterprise Server), GroupWise collaboration tools, ZenWorks desktop management tools and Novell Linux Desktop, as well as the OpenOffice productivity suite for Linux and Windows.

The suite, which is a renaming of Novell's existing Small Business Suite and Linux Small Business Suite, comes with OpenOffice for Windows for the first time, and is offered under new licensing terms, including a subscription option that starts at US$80 (or €76 in Europe) per user per year, said Brian Green, a Novell technical director in the UK.

That pricing is around 70 percent cheaper than buying comparable Microsoft products, Novell said, citing a three-year licence for 250 users under Microsoft's Enterprise Agreement contract for desktop software.

Open-source software has done well in the server market but its adoption on the desktop is hampered by concerns about ease of use and the availability of compatible software drivers and applications.

"You can make Linux easy to use if you set it up right, but there are still touchy areas for users who want to set up their own network, for example, or use an unusual graphics card. It still lags significantly behind Mac OS and Windows," said Gary Barnett, an analyst at Ovum.

Novell will address those concerns in the coming months with a new version of Novell Linux Desktop, Green said. To be rebranded SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, the software will focus on ease of use, making it easier to find the right driver or create macros in Excel, he said. Customers who buy a maintenance subscription for Open Workgroup Suite will get a free upgrade to the new desktop products when it's released.

There are also some negative perceptions around Novell's brand, according to Barnett. The company lost a big share of its operating systems business to Windows in the 1990s, and it has yet to re-establish itself fully since it acquired SuSE Linux two and a half years ago and reinvented itself as a Linux company.

Barnett said, "The announcements from Novell and other players help enhance the credibility of Linux on the desktop, but I don't see a big tipping point coming in the next two years."