Novell has released the first beta-test version of Suse Linux 10.0 as the initiation of its community-oriented project, OpenSuse.

The release was made through Novell's OpenSuse website, OpenSuse.org.

The project aims to open up Suse's development process to the developer community, following in the steps of companies such as Red Hat and Sun Microsystems with their Fedora and OpenSolaris projects. The aim is to spur developer and business interest in the software, with the logic that engineers are more likely to want to use a distribution they are able to work on themselves.

Novell said its effort differs from other community-oriented distributions - which also include distributions such as Debian and Ubuntu - in its emphasis on end-users and the desktop experience. Red Hat's Fedora, for example, is explicitly intended for technology enthusiasts who wish to play around with cutting-edge technology, and doesn't have any particular focus on the user interface or usability issues.

Suse, on the other hand, has a long-running desktop programme, employing some prominent KDE user interface developers, working with the City of Munich in its massive plan to migrate to Linux-based workstations, and selling the Suse Linux Desktop based partly on its work with Munich.

"Only the openSUSE project refines its Linux distribution to the point where non-technical users can have a successful Linux experience," Novell said in a fact-sheet about the new programme.

Previously Novell, as with most Linux distributors, used publicly available, open-source GNU/Linux components to build its software, but carried out the actual engineering work in-house. OpenSuse gives developers access to Suse Linux's review, testing and development process, with frequent developer builds promised.

In common with Fedora, the project will let users get their hands on bleeding-edge technology including the latest builds of desktop environments, office applications, Novell AppArmor-based security, desktop search, Mono and Eclipse development packages, multimedia and Xen virtualisation software.

Community contributions will be part of the release of Suse Linux 10.0 in the autumn, which will arrive as a free download as well as a packaged retail version with full documentation.

Industry observers said the move could help Novell gain market share from Red Hat, particularly since some developers have become disillusioned with Red Hat's approach to Fedora. The move is a necessary step for Novell, which is finding that its Linux business is not growing as quickly as expected, according to Ovum analyst David Bradshaw.

"Novell continues its journey from being a traditional software company to a services-oriented business...(but) Novell will have to wait a while for its Linux-oriented services business to really take off," Bradshaw wrote in a research note.

In the meantime, Novell has recently had to take cost-cutting measures such as UK staff layoffs, Bradshaw noted.