Novell, Red Hat Staking New Linux Territory

The bold operating system moves made last week by Novell and Red Hat create a new battleground in the consolidating Linux space and leave each company with a host of new challenges.

The bold operating system moves made last week by Novell Inc. and Red Hat Inc. create a new battleground in the consolidating Linux space and leave each company with a host of new challenges.

Novells $210 million purchase of SuSE Linux AG is the vendors second acquisition this year, following the purchase of open-source developer Ximian Inc. in August. A sweetener to this deal is that IBM plans to take a $50 million stake in Novell, of Provo, Utah.

IBM and Novell are negotiating extensions to existing agreements between IBM and SuSE for the support of SuSE Linux on IBMs eServer products.

Prior to Novells SuSE announcement, Red Hat, of Raleigh, N.C., e-mailed customers announcing the company would no longer update its consumer Red Hat Linux line after April. The move automatically gave Novell a leg up in the consumer and desktop Linux space.

Although Red Hat intends to push customers to Red Hats Enterprise Linux server and workstation software, which carries an annual subscription fee, some said the move is misguided.

"Desktops are used by enterprise customers," said Stacy Quandt, an analyst at the Open Source Development Lab, in Beaverton, Ore. "Red Hat is considering the desktop a consumer play and not looking at the adoption of desktops in enterprises. Thats a big disadvantage."

But its a disadvantage Novell itches to exploit.

/zimages/1/28571.gifCheck out eWEEKs interview with Novell CEO Jack Messman SuSE Linux CEO Richard Seibt.

Thats because the SuSE deal gives Novell a viable alternative to Red Hat, based on technical and financial merits, Quandt said. In fact, Novell has the potential to replace Red Hat as the leading Linux distributor in the United States, she said.

But while Novell customers and resellers welcome the move to shore up the companys Linux offerings, they believe the open-source development process has its downside.

"With NetWare, Novell was in control of their own software development destiny," said John Kretz, president of Enlightened Point Consulting Group LLC, in Phoenix, which runs NetWare, Windows 2000 and Red Hat systems. "But now Novell will find itself held against the double-edged sword of open source: They may own SuSE, but they dont control the kernel development."

"I wonder how long it will be before that starts eating away at Novell, waiting for Linus [Torvalds] to bless features and releases," Kretz said. "I wonder if Novell will ultimately have the guts to fork the Linux kernel development and start their own branch."

Donald Barber, a senior technical support specialist for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Enterprise IT delivery department, is enthusiastic about the move, saying Novell has proved that it has the skills to produce solutions that solve key business issues. The migration to Linux was a natural progression to provide the stability and functionality of NetWare on the proven, solid Linux platform, Barber said.

"This deal has increased our desire to begin pursuing a Novell/Linux solution. The migration that has taken place from NetWare to Windows is nothing more than customers responding to well-advertised misinformation regarding the benefits of Microsoft [Corp.] products," Barber said.

Novell officials said the network services in NetWare 7, the next version of the product, will work on the Linux and NetWare kernels. Novell will also offer its network services, Nterprise, on Linux. The first release of that is due next month, with the second release following six to nine months later and containing all the services in NetWare 6.5 today on top of Linux, officials said.

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