View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Was yesterday's news that Novell acquired SuSE a disaster or great news for Linux?

I woke up yesterday morning, 11/4/03, to learn that SuSE had been bought by Novell, pending the usual hurdles. I already could hear the Net sizzling with various references to the Deity and other less printable exclamations, some along the lines of "Goodbye, SuSE".

But wait a minute. What does this really mean, for us ordinary folk? Well, for starters, let's read the third paragraph of the press release:

Novell today also announced that IBM intends to make a $50 million investment in Novell convertible preferred stock. In addition, Novell and IBM are negotiating extensions to the current commercial agreements between IBM and SUSE LINUX for the continued support of SUSE LINUX on IBM's eServer products and middleware products to provide for product and marketing support arrangements related to SUSE LINUX. Both of these agreements will be effective when the acquisition of SUSE LINUX by Novell is completed.

Now, think about that. Novell paid $210 million for SuSE, cash on the barrel-head. It had way more money than that figure in the bank, and the company is debt-free, despite having bought Ximian earlier this year. Novell easily could have completed the acquisition without IBM's help. And it's not like either transaction was anything less than amicable. SuSE admitted in the post-sale press conference that they wanted to partner, and the fact that the IBM transaction is preferred stock has "approval" written on the face of it. So, in essence, this is a friendly three-way partnering.

If you've been following IBM, you know what IBM's position on Linux is. IBM was the first old-money company to invest in Linux, way back in the 20th century, when it bought a chunk of Red Hat. When I got my RHCE, four of the twelve people in my class were career IBMers sent to certify their Linux chops. IBM's people subsequently contributed a significant chunk of GPL code, including the JFS, POSIX threading and the Omni Print Driver. This is the same code, along with the GPL itself, IBM now are defending vigorously in court in Utah. IBM easily could have squashed the plaintiffs like a bug, bought them out, paid them a settlement, told them to go away and made it stick. Indeed, I thought they would. But, no, I'm coming to realize that IBM, having made a significant investment in the GPL and Linux itself, is now going to defend it from all comers. Which is what I think this stock deal is about, from its point of view: IBM is moving to protect its investment in Linux.

And Novell, by letting IBM do this, is saying, "Okay, fine; we're all on the same page here." Remember that the last big acquisition for Novell was Ximian. Novell has been server-side for years, and proprietary at that. But as our own Doc Searls found out back in August, IBM is not the only enterprise company that Gets It about Linux. Doc, quoting Ximian founder Nat Friedman:

What we discovered coming into Novell, by the time we stated meeting with them, (was that) they had already made the decision that Linux was where the industry was going, that open source was the right model, and that there was an enormous opportunity here for an actual enterprise software company to do a great job of driving Linux adoption and solving a lot of problems.... Novell was the first actual enterprise software company to do that. So we got excited because we always had a very grand set of ambitions in terms of what we'd like to accomplish and where we'd like to go.

And where is this all going? Again, Doc quotes Nat:

The desktop is the next big thing for Linux. This is where we're going to see the most exciting activity, the most non-incremental and explosive activity, in the next couple of years...it's going to be an edge-in thing...technical workstations -- all the UNIX workstations are going to be Linux. It's Intel. It's cheaper. It just makes more sense. And then you move in to single use cases like supply chain management, customer relationship management, where people use one or two applications on a daily basis. And as we progress over the next several years, we'll move toward the general office worker.

General office worker. That's you and me, gang, plus our secretaries and bookkeepers and, eventually, Great Aunt Ednas. But you've got a problem here. You've got a server application and you've got a desktop, but you need something to run it on. Sure, you can use Linux. But whose Linux? You need world-class support, 24x7, because that's the kind of thing people expect from Novell. Red Hat didn't want to do a partner deal, according to the remarks in the press conference. But SuSE always did want to partner.

Novell said it will continue to support UnitedLinux. What this means in light of certain lawsuits is, of course, an open question. In the meantime, you'll be able to get SuSE Linux from your Novell channel partner. It still will be SuSE; Novell plans to maintain the brand. Most importantly, Novell does not intend to compete with the dominant paradigm on the desktop but, rather, to decrease impediments to getting Linux into the market. I would look for a large investment in Samba, Ximian Connector and new products in that general direction.

IBM re-invented itself over the last decade of the 20th century; it went from being a mainframe company to exploring proprietary UNIX heavily to now being, in large part, a Linux company. SuSE and Ximian always were Linux companies, good ones that survived the dot-bomb era and thrived. Now Novell is hard at work re-inventing itself as a Linux company, and I think it will be quite successful at it.

What does all this mean for you and me? Two things, I think. First, I think we're going to see a lot more support for Linux on the desktop, in terms of gee-whiz programs and interoperability and in terms of toll-free numbers we can call when things break. Second, Novell is going to need people to write all that code and man all those support desks (or to re-train the folks that already do). This will be a fine shot in the wallet for us penguinheads. No, folks, SuSE isn't going away anytime soon. If anything, it'll thrive--IBM will see to that even if Novell doesn't--and pass the benefits on to us, like it always has. This is a Happy Thing, down here in the trenches.

Glenn Stone is a Red Hat Certified Engineer, sysadmin, technical writer, cover model and general Linux flunkie. He has been hand-building computers for fun and profit since 1999, and he is a happy denizen of the Pacific Northwest.

email: liawol.org!gs

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Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Novell + Suse Linux + IBM + Linux + Linux Comunity + Open Source ?

Last time I saw any thing like this was when Luke Skywalker found R2D2, C3PO, Obiwan Kenobi, Han Solo, Chewbaca and princes Leia.

It is not necessary give freebies to make the business go ahead. Simply stand (support) Open Source !!!

I buy a Personal Computer blunded with a modern Suse Linux for $100,00 happily.

Jack Messman leads the happy workers in song?

Doc's picture

The problems with most acquisitions are cultural and political, not "strategic" or operational.

Novell may be a far more enlightened company than it used to be, but it's from another country and another culture (in a variety of ways), and it doesn't have the best track record at acquisitions.

Somebody from Germany pointed me to this picture here (warning: it's 2.2Mb) amidst SuSE PR files, saying it refected the "mood" inside SuSE as the announcement was being made. Here's a smaller version on my own server.

I hope, for the sake of both companies, and their customers and users, that this thing works out. To do that, however, Novell needs to go out of its way to make the SuSE employees feel they're still working for a purpose that goes beyond a paycheck. And that won't be easy.

Re: Jack Messman leads the happy workers in song?

Anonymous's picture

I did notice that no one seem to be smiling, but then any time your company sells out to another , there are worries that come along with that. After a annocement like this, my worst fears come to pass and found myself out of a job in a couple of weeks. I hope for their sake and Ours Novell has indeed change.

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Has anyone else thought of what just happen? SuSe had a "licence" of SCO for their system Now owned by Novell and IBM, unless SCO forcefully take that away IBM is now more secured now than ever of the dirty rotten SCOndle.

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Novell has had to change its brand image from "the only network company" to "the best network company" when marketing to corporations now getting some network software bundled with every computer.

SUSE are a German company with a reputation for quality and that fits far better with the direction of the Novell brand than RedHat would. I think that would matter to some of the decision makers in Novell, because they could have bought just about any linux company they wanted right now.

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

One reason I picked and bought SuSE was cause it was NOT an American company.

SuSE is a great product. With a sigh of nostalgia, I'll be telling my grandchildren one day a woeful story...
"Once upon a time, there was a grand and great Linux distro called SuSE. That is, until the Amerian corporate plague came..."

not good bye Suse. Good by KDE and the

Anonymous's picture

I see Novell trying to "out-RedHat" RedHat and to "out-Microsoft" the microsoft. Suse linux will become one more commercial americana blend.

KDE is QT, at least at the library level. Novell SELLS middleware. You think Novell will want to pay for the "commercial" (resellable) version of QT? No.

"Read my lips," (tm) Suse will be Xemian Gnome based.

"Oh! Humanity!" (tm)

or make a lgpl compatible qt

Anonymous's picture

...which would be fantastic, solving the final hurdle to acceptance of the KDE way.

Re: or make a lgpl compatible qt

Anonymous's picture

An LGPL-compatible Qt would be the death knell for Trolltech. They make money and are able to pay their developers because proprietary software houses that use Qt have to pay them. They aren't going to give that up.

This fact makes Gnome more attractive from a financial point of view for companies like Red Hat and Sun.

In the end, though, it just isn't going to matter. Gnome and KDE interoperability will continue to improve (Novell has a huge reason to push this, if they don't want to throw away their investment in Ximian, and Red Hat has been pushing it as well). Both Novell and Red Hat will continue to unify the look and feel of Gnome and KDE, which will piss off the KDE people. Users won't be aware of whether they are running a KDE or a Gnome app.

Re: not good bye Suse. Good by KDE and the

Anonymous's picture

You mean they shell out $210 million for SuSE, and a QT commercical license costing them one-time $2000 per developer is too expensive?!?!?! Talk about penny-wise pound-foolish. For that matter, SuSE almost certainly already has a few developer licenses since they develop Yast (non-gpl) with QT.

What about Lotus Smartsuite?

Anonymous's picture

Just a thought: If IBM is as committed to Linux as they seem, why not make the old Lotus Smartsuite applications run on it? Could be the "killer app" Linux has been looking for.

Re: What about Lotus Smartsuite?

Anonymous's picture

> Could be the "killer app" Linux has been looking for.

IMHO, that killer app would be SuSE's OpenExchange product. If Novell can fund enough development, we'd see more people evaluating a migration to OE instead of MS Exchange 2003.

Re: What about Lotus Smartsuite?

Anonymous's picture

They've stated in the past that they could not do this due to the restrictions under which they licenced some of the technology in SmartSuite.

Ximian and SuSE

Anonymous's picture

I would like to chime in at this point with the issues revolving around Gnome and KDE. First is to realize that Gnome is not GTK and KDE is not Qt.

SuSE is heavily based on KDE and has had a very successful model sprouting from the concepts of KDE. I doubt very much that this will change as Gnome has been proven to "work" but has never been a choice Operating Environment for the common user. The Gnome project, though having many beneficial products under it's belt, lacks the structure which has become fundamental to the KDE project.

Having said this, I would almost dare to assume that Novell's focus will be placed upon tweaking Gnome and KDE both to interoperate. For prime example, drag-and-drop between Gnome and KDE applications.

Ximian and SuSE

Anonymous's picture

I would like to chime in at this point with the issues revolving around Gnome and KDE. First is to realize that Gnome is not GTK and KDE is not Qt.

SuSE is heavily based on KDE and has had a very successful model sprouting from the concepts of KDE. I doubt very much that this will change as Gnome has been proven to "work" but has never been a choice Operating Environment for the common user. The Gnome project, though having many beneficial products under it's belt, lacks the structure which has become fundamental to the KDE project.

Having said this, I would almost dare to assume that Novell's focus will be placed upon tweaking Gnome and KDE both to interoperate. For prime example, drag-and-drop between Gnome and KDE applications.

And for my own sake of sanity (and I know most of you will disagree), GTK is not Gnome. Please people, if you're developing with GTK, do not use Gnome by default. The two projects have been merged much to my dissappointment. GTK, for those of you who have used it directly, is a very structured gui toolkit well designed for very technical programs. It was designed for use in Gimp and has well supported the structure of Gimp for many years. Gnome, in a rush to compete with KDE, has perverted the GTK to it's own needs, coercing functionality into places which do not fit. Gnome's "contributions" have been a great detriment to the purity of the GTK project.

I do not disagree with the Gnome project's purpose in modifying the GTK project, but I heavily disagree with the execution in doing so.

Comments or questions to be sent to tylnmade@icqmail.com , include "GTK" or "Gnome" somewhere in the topic.

Re: Ximian and SuSE

Anonymous's picture

Please people, if you're developing with GTK, do not use Gnome by default. The two projects have been merged much to my dissappointment.

Your point is well taken, but overstated.
In fact, the trend is for functionality to move down the stack from GNOME to GTK+.
A wealth of stock icons are now available in GTK+ that were previously only in GNOME.
VTE is a GTK+ terminal emulation widget that replaces GNOME's ZVT.

The close collaboration between GTK+ and GNOME is a good thing, because it removes political barriers to doing the Right Thing.

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Novell can still ruin SUSE by imposing software licensing restrictions that ultimately hurts the Linux community. In fact the Netware licensing is way over priced for the value you get out of it.

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

If you think Netware licensing is over-priced then you haven't looked at it in a while. In fact Novell is making their small-business suite available to their resellers at NO CHARGE. The reseller/consultant can charge whatever he wants to (or not) for the installation of the software.

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

I'm sure SuSE isn't going away, I just worry that the moderately priced boxed sets (esp. Professional for $89) will be going away. I don't doubt that IBM and Novell care about Linux, but their business model is catering to big businesses that can afford to pay big bucks. If it turns out that the boxed sets are a drag on their core business (or a distraction), then say goodbye. Hmm... how much is Red Hat charging these days for their freakin DESKTOP??? And you don't even get media. Will SuSE go the same way? Maybe a win for Novell, IBM, and the businesses who can afford their level of service. For home users and small independant VARs? I'm not so sure.

Cheers,
Ken

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

One word: FreeBSD!!!! This is one piece of free software that will never be bought up by large corporations, leaving you out in the cold. Netcraft surveys show that it is indeed a very stable OS. As you probably know, Apple uses part of FreeBSD in their kernel. And, FreeBSD also runs most Linux apps...
Make the Switch!!

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

FreeBSD? Tried it, didn't like it much. OTOH I have been messing with NetBSD lately and I like it. It's been awhile since I tried FreeBSD though, maybe it's time for another look. But still, bang for the buck, good docs, "professional" presentation... it's damn hard to beat SuSE. Heres to hoping Novell doesn't kill off the (affordable) boxed sets.

Cheers,
Ken

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Maybe a win for Novell, IBM, and the businesses who can afford their level of service. For home users and small independant VARs? I'm not so sure.

How could I make you see that this is, actually, a good thing? If there is business, then there is an opportunity. Who is going to support all these SMEs trying to build and maintain their internal networks? Well, if the big companies aren't going for it, then some small companies are going to fill this niche.

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

> If there is business, then there is an opportunity.

Maybe. When I could offer small clients a $40 (or $80) solution - I always made them buy the boxed set - it was a pretty easy sell. If Novell decides to go to the Red Hat model of... what... $149 min? for just the desktop, no "official" media, no printed docs, most of my clients would just stay with Winblows. And if Novell does decide to send SuSE doen the Red Hat business path, how am I supposed to convince my clients that the previous $40 solution is now ~$150, the previous $80 solution is now ~$350, and this is a good thing that they should be happy about?

Cheers,
Ken

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

I think the price on Mandrake boxed sets is still quite reasonable. I belong to the club and download rather than buy media so I don't pay much attention to sets in stores. I used to see either Red Hat or Mandrake boxed sets in stores. It was often a version behind or something, now I don't notice any boxed sets. Can you find a boxed set of any linux distro in Costco, Walmart or the local bookstore? If not this is a problem. How can people load something if they don't see the product? You or I will find CDs and manuals somewhere but to be on more desktops we need boxes in stores where people will find them.

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Do you really care whether you can get the media or not? As long as ISOs are available, it doesn't matter. Unless you are a complete moron, you can burn them and make the same media for under $1. Get over it, ESD is here to stay and that is a good thing.

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

> As long as ISOs are available, it doesn't matter.

Well, yes it does. Maybe not to me, but to (potential) customers. To them, a "home burned" CD looks, well, homemade. And then there is the issue of "professional (looking)" documentation, which SuSE currently includes in their boxed sets, and which I hope they continue to make available.

Cheers,
Ken

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

"Maybe a win for Novell, IBM, and the businesses who can afford their level of service. For home users and small independant VARs? I'm not so sure."

The obvious answer is: More Variant Distros catering to the consumer/hobbyist....
The big guys dont see this as a market, because in the greater scheme of things - it isnt (the overhead involved cuts the margins very slim......)

But there still is Fedora, Slackware, Debian. While they dont have very polished install scripts and you have to contact the programmer for support on their applications, they do remain low cost and are freely redistributable..... If you want consumer Linux, why not build your own modified distro (based on the *Big Boyz*), burn it on a CD (this is not difficult if you dont through in too many customized compiles) and give it to your "computer challenged" friends?
Once you have it installed, how often does one really have to reinstall (versus just upgrading certain packages?) I know I dont do it very often, so I dont really need a new distro - just the updates on the application, window manager or occasional kernel level...... I anticipate we will continue to see this from the community..... It's in everyone's best interest.
I think IBM, et all has given the Independent VAR an opportunity to work within the "smaller picture" and earn a good unimpeded living...... Granted the "Big Fish" deals wont be on the VAR's profit ledger, but for the Independent VAR, they never really have been - except in small verticals or in deals where M$, et al, gave them a bone.... The Vertical will still be there and there wont be a Big Corp coming in at a lowball bid to trump the VAR.....

To me this seems like a good thing......

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Hmm...

> The ovbious answer is: More Variant Distros catering to the consumer/hobbiest....

There are already plenty of distros that cater to hobbiests, most of which aren't attractive to NON-hobbiest users.

> But there still is Fedora, Slackware, Debian.

Install scripts aside, all three of them come with NO media and NO printed documentation, things whic VAR customers tend to like. At least Slackware (like SuSE) has clean (easy to read and understand) init scripts.

> ... why not build your own modified distro...

Because I'd rather spend my time using the system instead of developing it myself... Because my VAR customers want a "standard" system... Because I refuse to believe that the only two price points for Linux are "free and unsupported" and "supported but only if you're rich."

> I think IBM, et all has given the independent VAR an opportunity..."

Only if they keep selling reasonably priced boxed sets. I hope you're correct.

Cheers,
Ken

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Thank you for a level headed and real-world assessment of the event [meaning it validates my thinking 8^)]. Seriously, I think this is all good news despite the nay-sayers.

One point I'd like to emphasize is while folks point to Novell's sordid past of failures... they are still alive with a ton of cash, a plan (which is more than most companies who are just hanging on at the moment), and SuSE despite their success have had their bouts of suffering under management of their own.

Notes and discussion on linuxgazette.com

Anonymous's picture

There are Phil Hughes' notes from the SuSE/Novell press conference and discussion on the Linux Gazette forums at http://www.linuxgazette.com/node/view/132 and a look at this from the financial side on WorldWatch.LinuxGazette.com..

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

I hope Novell's ownership of Ximian (GNOME) won't mean that it squashes SuSE's sponsorship of the KDE project.

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

KDE Sucks. TTTTOOOOO SSSSLLLLLOOOOOWWWWW

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Well I saw SuSE 9.0 on a crash course with OS X and now what is next ?

The corperate end of linux sucks , Canada has no linux distro but we do have open bsd .

I wonder if this has anything to do with Germany going over to SuSE in its banks and governments ?

Soon all that may be left is free bsd as it twas in the beginning ........

Re: View from the Trenches: Goodbye SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

I hope that SuSE will blend in its great looking settings and applications to Gnome and then blend in Ximian into that. Giving a great home/workstation that is very nicely polished! OO.o, Eveolution, Red-Carpet with the look and feel of a real desktop! This will give MS$ to worry about!

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