Enterprise Unix Roundup — LinuxWorld Rallies the Faithful

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Aug 5, 2004

LinuxWorld Wrap Up     Sun's Novell Adventure     SCO Revs the DeLorean     Security Roundup     Tips of the Trade
LWE West was the place to be this week: Novell went in for a penguin, in for a pound to become a full-blown Linux player; and HP, IBM, Red Hat, and Sun courted the colony. SCO says 'no' to more lawsuits. We look at rpl, a utility that replaces strings in files.

This week saw the passing of another Linux World Expo West (LWE West).

Around this time last year, we said, "Long considered the tent revival cousin of the more staid winter East Coast show, LWE West is where the old community spirit that characterized Linux in earlier times is more likely to be found, and it's where Linux vendors are a lot more likely to rally the troops."

We'll tip our hand now by noting that nowhere in this week's edition of the Roundup will you find the words "what a difference a year makes."

Part of the key to "getting" Linux World in general is understanding the relationship between companies in the Linux space and the Linux community. We're not big fans of the word "community" because it's more often than not a cheap marketing word. Where Linux is concerned, though, there is a vocal and mobilized core of users who most quite clearly identify themselves as a community and mostly act that way.

If we didn't know a few of these self-identified "community members" working in server closets and periodically preparing reports about which technology to pursue, we'd be more dismissive of their effect on companies trying to crack into the Linux market. But the fact is Linux got its uplift from the grass roots: Appealing to that population can't hurt an aspiring Linux player, and it probably helps. IBM recognized that early on and it continues to reap the benefits.

Novell the Linux Company

Last year was Novell's year to come out as committed to Linux. The company had just announced its acquisition of Ximian, well known for Evolution (an Outlook-like program for Unix) and its slick repackaging of the GNOME desktop. The move made sense in a limited sort of "in for a penny" kind of way, since Ximian could provide Novell with a GroupWise-ready client in the Linux and Unix space.

What hadn't happened at that point was Novell's acquisition of SUSE, which was finalized the following winter at LWE East in New York City. That purchase gave Novell the second most prominent enterprise Linux distribution, gave Ximian's enterprise Red Carpet package management software a new reason for being (it's now part of NetWare, riding atop Linux), and gave Novell desktop-to-server Linux capabilities.

This LWE, the company completed the cycle with some product announcements, including SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, Novell ZenWorks Linux Management Enterprise, and exteNd 5.2.

Much has been made of SUSE 9 being first in the enterprise distribution sweepstakes to release a Linux 2.6-based edition. While this gives SUSE some draw among new Linux customers looking for the most advanced release of Linux, we doubt it's so far ahead of Red Hat's pending release of a 2.6-based edition that it will shake things up. However, it is a good "hit the ground running" offering, and it shows Novell hasn't impeded product development at SUSE.

Much has been made of SUSE 9 being first in the enterprise distribution sweepstakes to release a Linux 2.6-based edition. While this gives SUSE some draw, we doubt it's so far ahead of Red Hat's release that it will shake things up.

One thing that didn't come out of Novell this week was a beta release of its Linux desktop product. In fact, the company has been remarkably reticent about admitting to even having a release schedule for such a product. Back in April we discussed the headaches desktop Linux will provide any company that tries to approach it with an eye to settling on a single base GUI: GNOME and KDE are both worthy offerings, and each has a substantial base of loyalists.

Novell's initial talk about its desktop approach was vague mumbling about "merging" the two somehow. If the company is still not feeling too talkative about product, we're inclined to think that's because of two things: It has a lot on its plate as far as simple engineering, and it's aware of the stakes involved as far as community response. An approach that's perceived as unfairly emphasizing one desktop over the other will damage the credibility the company wants among Linux users, who aren't shy about publicly shredding desktop offerings they feel are too far behind the leading edge or under-featured.

HP's Fine Line

Where Novell is enjoying some tailwind from not making any public missteps, we're guessing Hewlett-Packard must have walked into LWE knowing it had to do something to appeal to its user base. The company's ongoing participation in the SCO Forum has rankled many Linux enthusiasts, who are inclined to pitch the conflict between SCO, IBM, and the Linux world at large in definitively black and white terms: Partying with SCO (HP buys the drinks at the SCO Forum welcome reception) is supping with the Devil.

So HP pulled out a guaranteed crowd-pleaser: It showed off a laptop with Linux preinstalled, which provoked a spate of cooing over how the built-in Firewire and Bluetooth features actually worked. Laptop Linux preinstalls are loyalty test among some, and it is one of the few areas where IBM has most consistently antagonized its largely loyal Linux following. Since Linux drivers for this technology already exist, HP's laptop can be read more as a bouquet of daisies than a critical leap forward in Linux tech.

In all fairness, HP made several other announcements more firmly aimed at its server customers, including:

  • The release of a new Compaq thin client and full Linux support for its Integrity line of servers
  • Plans to pursue a Common Criteria Certification for its servers and workstations (which would help spur federal and defense uptake of its Linux systems)
  • The addition of 6,500 Linux support and consulting specialists to its ranks

Red Hat and IBM

IBM and Red Hat had their share of announcements, too.

IBM released the source of its Java-based Cloudscape database app to the Apache Foundation, but made a bigger stir when Senior VP of technology and manufacturing Nick Donofrio announced the company would not use any of its patents against the Linux kernel. Intellectual property issues are, thanks to SCO, a major topic among Linux users ... too major for the mere toe dip treatment they would get if we were to include a discussion in this week's edition of the Roundup. IBM's pledge didn't go uncriticized, though. Open source advocate Bruce Perens urged the company to put its promise in writing. More on that next week.

Red Hat's major announcement came from the release of its Red Hat Application Server. The analysts aren't particularly impressed:

"What this does is offer a department-level application server that is pretty bare-bones," Yankee Group Senior Analyst Dana Gardner told internetnews.com. "It is not a fully integrated deployment platform."

Did we pass a few things up? Yes. LWE is never a good week for fans of ink conservation. Stay tuned for next week's edition, where we expect we'll put the final bits of tape and ribbon on our wrap up.

>> To Sun's Novell Adventure
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>> To Security Roundup
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