A demonstration of the next release of Novell's Linux for desktops drew cheers and applause Wednesday, although the final version of the software is not expected for some months.
Nat Friedman, the company's vice president of Linux desktop engineering, showed Novell Linux Desktop 10 playing videos and MP3 music files, and exchanging music and photos with an iPod and a digital camera, in a keynote presentation at the Solutions Linux conference and trade show on the outskirts of Paris.
The forthcoming desktop Linux distribution also includes features for business users, such as software for translating Visual Basic macros in Microsoft Excel spreadsheet documents into their equivalent in StarBasic, the macro language used by the open-source OpenOffice.org productivity suite.
For the average home user, existing Linux distributions suffer from one major flaw: they can't play MP3-format music files out of the box. This is because the MP3 encoding system is patented, and the system for licensing the patent is incompatible with the GPL open source license under which Linux is distributed, Friedman says.
To get around that, Novell has developed its own MP3 player software, Banshee, for which it has licensed the patents. The software will be available under an open-source license, but not the GPL, he says. To demonstrate Banshee, he connected an iPod nano music player to the USB port of his laptop. Immediately, the software recognized the device, adding the music it contained to the playlist and allowing him to play one of the tracks.
"Now we have a legal way to do this for free that's open source," he says.
Getting the Picture
Novell has also included software that recognizes when a digital camera is connected to the PC, and offers to transfer images from the camera's memory to an application called F-Spot, where they can be cataloged, edited, or posted to a Web site. To show how easy this is, Friedman took a photo of the audience, plugged his digital camera into the laptop, selected the picture from a list presented by the software and with a couple of clicks uploaded it to his account with the Flickr photo hosting service. Seconds later, the picture was online. (You can see it here.) Other operating systems, such as Mac OS X or Microsoft Windows, already include such features, but no one has made it as easy with Linux before, he says.
Friedman also wowed the audience with the capabilities of an open-source graphics subsystem, XGL, the development of which Novell has been supporting since it hired programmer David Reveman early last year. He began playing a movie file and then showed how the window containing it could be folded, distorted or turned into a thumbnail view, all while the movie continued to play.
The code for XGL developed at Novell will be made available next week, Friedman says. However, Reveman has already returned some of it to the open-source development community, according to bulletin board postings.
Novell is expected to release the finished version of Novell Linux Desktop 10 at the same time as it releases the next enterprise version of SuSE Linux.