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Page 2 of 2 -- Novell's product, SUSE Linux 9.2, is used primarily by hobbyists in the consumer market. (It's also distributed in the small business market.) In its most recent quarter, when Waltham-based Novell rang up revenue of $301 million, its Linux revenue accounted for $12 million -- and just $2 million of that was sales to individuals.

''We look at this product as something to generate enthusiasm for Linux with home users," said Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry. ''We also put in the latest and greatest packages of bleeding-edge open source technology before we put them in our enterprise products."

Lowry sees offices as being the logical first market for widespread adoption of desktop Linux. Novell itself already has shifted 3,500 of its 6,000 employees to Linux, and is moving the rest. ''We definitely see growth in the consumer space, but it's not a this-year thing," he said. ''As people start to get introduced to desktop Linux in a corporate environment, they'll start to use it at home as well. There are cost advantages that, over time, will be appealing to home users."

The proprietary Windows operating system and related software account for between $50 and $150 of the cost of an $800 personal computer, estimated Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of systems software research for Framingham's International Data Corp. The research firm has projected annual revenue for companies in the Linux ecosystem, including sellers of hardware, software, and services, will more than double to $35 billion by 2008, from $15 billion in 2003.

''A number of things are causing people to give open source a look," Kusnetzky said. ''One is the security problems that are almost a daily concern in Windows. . . . There's also the cachet. Some people think it's cool to tell their friends, 'I'm using Linux.' "

But there are impediments to ordinary PC users embracing Linux. Kusnetzky said thousands of software applications available on Windows don't run on Linux, including popular personal finance programs like Microsoft's Money or Intuit Inc.'s Quicken.

Mozilla's offerings, ''cross-platform" products available on both proprietary and Linux operating systems, are seen by some as bridges to the open source world for consumers reluctant to abandon Windows and the myriad software applications it supports. Officials at the nonprofit Mozilla were unavailable to discuss their Lightning project. But on their website, they outlined plans to integrate Sunbird with Thunderbird so consumers can coordinate messages with scheduling.

Kapor said the Chandler project, which has taken longer than anticipated, is intended to be a more ambitious platform, combining e-mail, task management, data storage, and other free-floating features into a more intuitive system. A prerelease version, called 0.5, is scheduled for February. And Kapor clearly sees it a building block for an open source alternative to Microsoft.

''Let's just say you have an irresistible force and an immovable object," he said. ''The irresistible force is open source, and the immovable object is the Windows operating environment. I would expect there would be increasing collisions over the next decade."

Robert Weisman can be reached at 

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