Novell has confirmed that SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 will be launched later this month, only a few weeks after the company unveiled a free public preview of the software.

SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10's upcoming release will include advanced Beagle search and numerous enterprise-level software packages, including OpenOffice 2.0, Exchange-compatible mail client Evolution 2.6, the Firefox web browser and instant messaging client Gaim 1.5.

But its biggest allure, according to longtime Novell product tester Brad Staupp, may be its graphical accessibility.

Staupp, the senior support analyst at Johnson County Community College in Kansas and a participant in Novell's annual BrainShare conference, praised SLED for its upgraded GNOME desktop. He compared its Xgl-powered interface to Windows Vista's Aero Glass look, although it requires less powerful hardware to run.

"At BrainShare, there were many people running SUSE on machines that couldn't handle Vista," said Staupp. "They were P4 Lenovo ThinkPads running 512MB of RAM" - not the latest hardware, but no slouches either, he said.

SLED 10 will be priced at US$50 per licence when released later this month. Susan Linton, a Linux software enthusiast and reviewer at Tuxmachines.org/, echoed Staupp's praise: "If I was running a business or an office - or just working in one, I'd definitely love to have SLED 10 on my desktop."

With SLED 10 aimed at the desktop Linux user, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 10 is geared to corporate use.

In addition to including server packages such as MySQL 5.0, PostgreSQL 8.1, PHP 5.1 and Apache 2.2, SLES will offer a fully-featured and configured firewall, Novell's AppArmor - a response to Red Hat Inc.'s SELinux application security software - and integrated XEN 3.0 virtual servers.

Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata who attended BrainShare and got an early look at SLES 10, was immediately impressed with the software's virtualisation technology. "Perhaps the single most notable addition is Xen," said Haff. "[It's] well on its way to becoming the standard built-in hypervisor for Linux."

Staupp, whose department is in the process of making a Linux switch, was similarly pleased: "The virtualisation with [SUSE] Server is huge," he said, citing it as a major step forward for businesses that can't afford VMware licensing.

While the new versions of SLED and SLES may attract current Novell users, it's newcomers to Linux - or those that haven't wanted to buy VMware GSX licences - that Novell targeted with its preview release in June.

"The value of SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 can best be experienced hands-on," said Novell's director of product marketing Justin Steinman. "We firmly believe that those people who take some time to kick the tyres will end up wanting to drive it off the lot when it's formally released in the next few weeks."