Novell: SuSE stays the same, for now

Networking software giant Novell Inc ( does not have any plans to change anything in the Linux operating system from its recently-acquired SuSE AG … at least, not in the medium term.

“SuSE will continue (to operate) as a business unit of its own,” said John Phillips, Novell’s corporate technology strategist for the Asia Pacific region.

He said there has been no clear indication internally whether Novell is planning to either change SuSE’s name or its products.

These include the use of the K Desktop Environment (KDE), currently the default graphical user interface (GUI) for SuSE Linux and some open source network and ping monitoring utilities.

Novell has been on an aggressive Linux drive over the last year, providing more support and interoperability in its products for the upstart, open source operating system that many have touted as a more secure, cheaper alternative to Microsoft Corp’s Windows.

The Provo, Utah-based company agreed to acquire SuSE for US$210mil (RM798mil) last November. The acquisition is expected to be completed by the end of the company’s fiscal fourth quarter this month.

Novell also acquired Linux software maker Ximian Inc last August for an undisclosed sum. At the time, the latter’s Ximian Desktop environment was expected to replace KDE on SuSE Linux.

“We don’t expect to make Ximian the default user interface, and for the medium term KDE will remain the default GUI on SuSE Linux,” assured Phillips.


Overlap, no overhaul

The SuSE acquisition will also create a “software overlap” with several of Novell’s other existing products, including its GroupWise and NetMail communication and collaboration applications.

By purchasing SuSE, the company would add the German-based Linux distribution maker’s Openexchange collaboration tool into the mix.

Phillips said it was still unclear which of these products would be phased out, if at all. “It’s hard to say which overlapping applications will survive, but things should stay the same for at least 12 months,” he said.

He also said the acquisition will not change SuSE’s stance in other areas within the open source software community.

“We are committed to maintaining support behind UnitedLinux and we’re going to continue to help that consortium take off,” Phillips said of the pact made by The SCO Group, Turbolinux Inc and Conectiva Inc with SuSE prior to its acquisition.

“You will also continue to see SuSE as an active member of the open source development community,” he said, adding that Novell has several open source projects being developed through SourceForge, a collaborative open source software development site run by Open Source Development Network Inc (OSDN).

“Ximian, SuSE and Novell will continue to deliver projects to the community where it makes sense,” he said.

What will change, according to Phillips, is that Novell’s interest in SuSE will place a “formal presence” for the Linux company in Asia which previously did not exist.

“There hasn’t been any formal SuSE presence in Asia up till now,” he said.

Novell also currently does not have plans to force any new licensing policies directly on SuSE or Ximian products, said Phillips.

However, current Novell customers can upgrade their licensing schemes to include technical support for SuSE and Ximian products.


Joining the movement

The driving force behind Novell’s venture into open source software was to offer more choice to its customers. “Novell has been on the Linux and open source bandwagon because our customers want more choice and are trying to reduce their TCO (the total cost of ownership),” said Phillips.

“We are going to mix and match our products to give customers that choice, and we’ll be putting the best-of-breed solutions on Linux.

“We also hope to aid customers in adopting Linux and other open source software by helping them understand them,” he added.

The company also believes that its involvement in Linux can help bridge migration issues, such as the lack of aftersales support which has stifled the mass adoption of open source technologies.

At the same time, Phillips reiterated that the purchase of SuSE would not spell the much-speculated end for Novell’s network operating system, NetWare.

“NetWare is not going away because customers still recognise it,” he said.

NetWare 7 is expected to be released in about 18 months, and would come with a regular NetWare kernel as well as a Linux core, he said.

The first step towards the release of a Linux version of the NetWare kernel is through Nterprise Linux Services 1.0 which the company released recently.

Nterprise Linux Services 1.0, according to Novell, brings some of NetWare’s technology — such as its file, print, messaging, directory and management services — to Linux. More such services will be added with every new version of the software.

Phillips said that the company is also looking to make the new Linux-based environment more secure and expects to be closer to that goal by the time NetWare 7 is launched.

He said the company will focus on fixing applications code primarily, as the kernel is currently quite secure and stable.