Novell Inc. has always been an operating system software company. But these days Novell's favorite operating system is Linux.

On Thursday, Novell unveiled its new version of Linux, its first since completing its acquisition of German Linux maker SUSE in January.

It's part of the company's plan to establish Linux as a complement for its NetWare operating system, once the world's most popular for networking desktop machines. Microsoft Corp. seized market dominance in the 1990s when it added networking capacity to its Windows software, and NetWare's market share has continued to dwindle.

In a bid to reinvent itself, Novell has moved its corporate headquarters from Provo to Waltham, Mass., and has embraced Linux, which is increasing in popularity because of its low cost and powerful features.

Novell has also become embroiled in the legal conflict between computermaker IBM Corp. and the SCO Group of Lindon. SCO has sued IBM, claiming that the giant computer firm illegally added SCO's Unix software to Linux. But Novell, which sold Unix to SCO years ago, says it still controls the Unix copyrights, and SCO has no right to sue IBM. SCO has retaliated by suing Novell.

The new SUSE 9.1 Linux, set to go on sale at retail stores in early May, will come in two versions — a $29.95 personal edition and a $79.95 professional edition for corporate users. By comparison, the full version of Microsoft's Windows costs $199.95 for the home edition and $100 more for the professional version. In addition, SUSE Linux is less expensive than Lindows, a different version of Linux that retails for $49.95.

Novell's release of a retail Linux comes as the largest Linux software vendor, Red Hat Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., has pulled out of the retail market to focus on corporate customers. Individuals who want to try Red Hat can download a free version called Fedora from the Internet.

But Red Hat offers no service or support for Fedora. Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry said selling a consumer version of Linux, complete with customer support, was a better way to encourage increased use of Linux software.

"It demands a certain amount of rigor in what you're putting out there," Lowry said. "You're asking people to pay for it. You're committed to support it."

The new Novell Linux will add support for Intel Corp.'s Itanium chips. These are 64-bit processors that can handle more demanding tasks than the 32-bit Pentium chips found in most desktop computers. It will also allow users to boot up the operating system directly from the CD-ROM disk, without having to install it to the computer's hard drive. This will enable first-time users to experiment with Linux without having to wipe out data already stored on the computer.

Linux is a complex program with a reputation that scares off many inexperienced computer users. The new Novell version tries to ease the pain with user-friendly features, such as improved CD and DVD burning, a personal information manager and universal instant messaging software.