Novell adds SuSE OS to Linux stack

Company needs to convince users that acquisition is good for Linux

With the acquisition of SuSE Linux, Novell has poured the foundation that it hopes will support a desktop-to-server Linux stack.

But the company is still missing some key pieces, and it remains to be seen how the open source community will react to the proprietary Novell as a purveyor of Linux.

The purchase brings Novell an operating system necessary to compete against Red Hat and a raft of Unix suppliers. Novell also hopes the $210 million it spent will create enough clout to persuade Fortune 1000 IT shops to embrace open source software for mission-critical applications.

Adding more sparkle to the picture is IBM’s intention to purchase a $50 million stake in Novell, as well as IBM’s current negotiations for the continued support of SuSE Linux on Big Blue’s eServers.

“This will allow us to offer a complete software stack from the desktop to the server and to tightly couple desktops to servers,” said Jack Messman, Novell’s chairman and CEO. “One of our big advantages is that for 20 years we have been developing services that sit on top of an operating system and we are going to put them on top of Linux.”

The technology Novell gained from SuSE plugs the operating system hole in Novell’s stack. SuSE’s version of Linux, which comes in desktop and server flavors, will complement the systems management and distribution software Novell gained when it snagged Ximian earlier this year. Novell also has been working on developing a new software suite of Linux networking services called Novell Nterprise Linux Services, now in beta testing and scheduled to ship by year’s end.

Novell, however, currently lacks an IDE and developing one will be a top priority, according to Chris Stone, Novell’s vice chairman.

Novell has been a “big supporter” of the Eclipse environment and that was “part of our discussions with IBM on the alliance,” Stone added.

To that end, SuSE is readying an SDK intended for use with the company’s SuSE Linux 9.0, which will be based on Eclipse, according to Juergen Geck, SuSE’s CTO.

Stone said that the merged company primarily will look to exploit opportunities against market nemesis Red Hat, which has ruffled some users’ feathers by more aggressively pursuing its policy of licensing per machine.

 It also plans to discontinue support of its Red Hat Linux line and, in so doing, push its enterprise-class products and the accompanying subscription fees.

“Linux now has a legitimate Pepsi to Red Hat’s Coke. The combined company has the strength, experience, installed presence in a significant number of major companies,” said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president in charge of system platform research at IDC. “And now they have an opportunity to go after Red Hat’s installed base, which is not happy with its moves toward the enterprise licensing model.”

John Enck, a server strategies analyst at Gartner, said that the moves also help Novell stack up against Microsoft.

“Microsoft’s major concern these days is Linux. So the combined Novell-SuSE-Ximian really does create a more competitive stack than Novell had,” Enck said. “Novell can go head-to-head at the OS level and say ‘OK, you have Exchange, we have GroupWise, you’ve got file and print and so do we.’ ”

Messman and other Novell officials, however, denied that battling Microsoft more effectively was a factor driving the acquisition. They said the focus will be to attract corporate users looking to replace older hardware and software platforms with less expensive, more flexible solutions.

“We have not done this deal so we can go out and replace Microsoft servers and desktops,” Stone said. “If it happens, then that is a nice side benefit. The objective here is to reduce impediments to Linux in the enterprise. It is that simple.”

Ximian’s Mono Project, which allows Linux developers to create .Net-compatible applications, could prove to be a key tactic. 

“Getting all .Net apps to run on Linux is critical for our strategy going forward and that’s exactly what we intend to do,” Stone said. “With SuSE, we clearly have the operating system on which we can build.”

Novell may have the technologies in place or under development, but it still faces philosophical challenges among open source developers.

“It is hard to say how the Linux community will view this — having a commercial proprietary vendor like Novell in control of a major distribution,” Gartner’s Enck said. “That is a question yet to be answered.”

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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