Novell, Red Hat and the Linux Desktop

What do Red Hat's new focus on server software and Novell's acquisition of SuSE mean for Linux's prospects as a desktop OS?

Linux users have been rocked this week by big news from two major vendors: Red Hat has bowed out of the race for the desktop market, and SuSE has been bought by Novell. What do these twin tremors mean for Linux users and the future of Linux itself?

Red Hat
Red Hats exit from the desktop is disheartening to some Linux partisans but makes perfect sense for the company. In the end, Red Hat has to put its shareholders interests above the idealistic dream of displacing Windows on the desktops of non-corporate users. This speaks well of Red Hats management; its focusing on the bottom line and allocating scarce resources to areas that will bring the highest possible return for the company.

No doubt the Linux purists will be on the march, decrying Red Hats decision as either "blasphemy" or a "betrayal" of the open source movement. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Linux world needs a strong Red Hat and should support Red Hats moves toward increasing profitability and financial strength. There are plenty of other distros that can cover the desktop for home users, there really isnt much of a need for Red Hat to be in that space.

The bottom line here is that well all be better off if Red Hat succeeds over the long haul. And it, like any other business, must do whatever it takes to achieve and grow. Hats off to Red Hats management, theyre getting it done.

SuSE and Novell
I have to confess that I sort of tuned out Novell a while back as bound for the same fate as some of Microsofts other foes—the graveyard. With the purchase of SuSE (and Ximian before it), however, it seems as though Novell is remaking itself in the image of Linux services.

I think this move bodes well for SuSE and for Novell itself. SuSE has always been one of the powerhouse Linux distributors, and now Novell will be able to incorporate all of SuSEs products into its own stable. The combination of SuSE and Ximian could prove to be a very powerful combination.


The Linux community as a whole should be ecstatic about what Novell is turning into. It will ultimately be a strong ally of the Linux community and a guarantor of continued development of SuSEs and Ximians excellent products.

The Real Loser: Microsoft
The entity that should be most concerned about all of this is Microsoft. As we all know, Microsoft would prefer that Red Hat waste its limited resources on going after the Windows desktop. Microsoft knows very well that in the short term, nobody (including Red Hat) is in any position to displace the Windows desktop monopoly. It must really irritate Gates and company to see Red Hat making the right moves to grow its business and become even more of a thorn in Microsofts side at the enterprise level.

The same goes for Novell. Just when Microsoft thought it had driven a stake through Novells heart, Novell pulls a Madonna and reinvents itself. And to add insult to injury, Novell is now the owner of Ximians Evolution—an excellent clone of Microsofts own Outlook e-mail and PIM program. The continued existence and development of Evolution (along with other open-source goodies like OpenOffice and Mozilla) is like a kidney stone that Microsoft just cant pass. Talk about agony!

A financially weak and politically divided Linux community is the apple of Microsofts eye. Novell and Red Hat have just made it much more difficult for that vision to take root in reality. Oh, how that must rankle Redmond!

The Verdict on Red Hat and Novell
None of us should be too shocked about these changes. Consolidation is a natural part of business, as is exiting unprofitable markets. What were seeing are smart moves by Novells and Red Hats management. Both teams are doing what it takes to build strong, powerful Linux companies. Linux mavens should be on their feet, cheering both companies on.

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Jim Lynch is the Community Manager for the eWEEK, ExtremeTech and PCMag forums.