Enterprise Unix Roundup: Take This with a Grain of Salt (Palace)

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Mar 19, 2008

Brian Proffitt
It's springtime. In my home state of Indiana, that means one thing: basketball, and lots of it. Another year, another Brainshare. The big theme out of Salt Lake City this year? That old standby, interoperability.

In the great state of Utah, it means another Brainshare is filling the tech media channels with all Novell news, all the time.

I didn't attend Brainshare this year, but I did hit the show last year, and I have to say it stands as one of the biggest vendor-sponsored shows I have attended in recent memory. This year, my cohorts in the field tell me, is no exception.

Novell, since its entry into the world of Linux after purchasing SuSE GmbH back in November 2003, has been a company of decidedly separate minds. On the one hand, it is remains firmly in support of its GroupWise and legacy NetWare business — a good thing, since this still accounts for a big chunk of its incoming revenue. On the other hand, the Linux side of the house is now the fastest growing part of Novell's business, although it is not yet the biggest slice of the revenue pie.

Enterprise Unix Roundup

The Linux biz for Novell has always been handled with some awkwardness. Even when the then-Utah-based company bought the Nürmburg, Germany Linux distributor, there was friction all around. It seemed like every week anonymous tips came in from sources inside and outside SuSE kvetching about how awful it was working with Novell's execs. People were lining up to leave by the dozens, I was told. Novell was dropping the ax on entire divisions. Hellfire! Brimstone!

Unfortunately, not all of the tips were exaggerated. As history has shown, there was a noted exodus of former SuSE execs and managers in 2004. Luckily, for Novell, they managed not to completely alienate the SuSE (now openSUSE) community during all of this. openSUSE has remained a well put-together community and product, and the SUSE Linux Enterprise products (SLE Server and SLE Desktop) still get high marks for technical achievement.

And that's a good thing, too, because as tough as Novell had it balancing between the SUSE and Novell folks before, its partnership arrangement with Microsoft (announced exactly three years after the SuSE acquisition) moved it to a high wire with no net and a very strong wind.

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That deal, which was revealed to the public in November 2006, still infuriates many of the politically minded in the Linux community. Not just because it was a deal with the proverbial devil, but also because of the so-called patent protection Microsoft offered to any Novell SUSE Linux customer. The (always veiled) implication that something in Linux infringes on Microsoft's intellectual property chafes at the community because everyone and their uncle knows the lawyers in Redmond will never come out and identify what, if anything, is infringing.

That Novell, the gatekeeper for a technically solid and well-liked Linux distribution, would buy into such a scheme made it doubly hard to swallow.

So, with that background, here we are in 2008. The big news out of The Salt Palace is still Linux though vague, with a big slathering of interoperability on top. InternetNews noted:

According to Novell CTO Jeff Jaffe, SUSE Linux 11 will include Unix-to-Linux migration tools as well as more virtualization, interoperability and desktop features.

Jaffe did not provide specific technical details on the actual components that will make up the release, however.

'Why are announcing that we have development plans rather than a product that we can ship?' Jaffe said during the press conference. 'It's important to understand how open source works and that it's not developed exclusively at Novell. It's important that we start marshalling people together for the next innovation in the Linux space.'

The Unix-to-Linux migration emphasis is probably the most interesting piece for Roundup readers. It was to me because it signals that Novell is still trying to catch a hold of the Unix migrators before they roll over to another Linux, OpenSolaris or even Windows Server.

Novell plans on working both sides against the middle, too. While it competes with everyone else, it will still be putting more effort into interoperability projects, such as Samba.

As someone who is cautious by nature, I can appreciate the path Novell is trying to take on the IT high wire, even if I find some of its decisions questionable at best. What I wonder is whether it can keep this balancing act up forever.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

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