Novell will release its first desktop-and-server suite for small businesses in September, an offering clearly aimed at taking market share from rival and sometime partner Microsoft.

The Novell Open Workgroup Suite Small Business Edition is based on Novell's Suse Linux distribution and includes the company's Open Enterprise Server for storage, user and rights administration, and clustering and failover capabilities.

On the desktop, the suite includes the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, the OpenOffice.org productivity suite and Novell's GroupWise software for email and a calendar.

The release of a small business suite is an effort by Novell to attract customers, a problem the company has encountered while transitioning its business away from its NetWare network operating system to Linux, said Laurent Lachal, open-source research director for analyst firm Ovum. Microsoft remains the vendor to beat in the small business area, although the market is somewhat fragmented, he added.

"The small to midsize business [SMB] market is the new frontier for everyone in the IT industry, whether it's Microsoft, SAP or IBM," Lachal said.

Novell pulled no punches comparing its suite to offerings from Microsoft, even though the two vendors struck a controversial agreement last November involving cross-patent licensing and projects to make their products more interoperable.

Novell said one licence for its suite will support five servers and 200 users, while one licence for Microsoft's Small Business Server tops out at 75 users. The vendor warned that users of Microsoft Small Business Server
2003 R2 suite would also have to buy Microsoft Office separately.

"The Novell edition of OpenOffice.org - which runs on both Windows and Linux desktops - provides 90 percent of the same functionality as Microsoft Office, supports Microsoft Office formats and is included with Novell Open Workgroup Suite at no extra cost," according to a Novell statement.

By capping at 200 the number of users for a single license, it would appear Novell has set its sights on the US market, Lachal said. The definition of small businesses in Europe tends to encompass far fewer employees than what are considered small businesses in the US, he said.