Novell Inc.s announcement earlier this month of its planned purchase of No. 2 enterprise Linux distributor SuSE Linux AG marks the most recent and dramatic stage in Novells push to hitch its fortunes to Linux and open-source software.
For companies countenancing a move to Linux, Novells moves mean that these firms have a vendor option thats large and well-established, but itll take some time before Novell gets its remade house in order.
Novell already ships open-source components such as Apache and Tomcat with its NetWare operating system, and the company has ported its core networking services to Linux, in preparation for a NetWare 7 release that will support the NetWare and Linux kernels.
When Novell expanded on these efforts with the purchase of desktop Linux development house Ximian Inc., the only piece missing from a Novell server-to-desktop Linux software stack was a Linux distribution—a piece that the SuSE deal will provide.
Nearly all the software that SuSE sells is open-source, so for Novell, the deal is not a matter of buying bits. Novell is acquiring SuSEs relationships, developers, independent software and hardware vendor certifications, and Linux distribution know-how—thereby putting itself on a fast track to becoming a very large Linux player.
First, however, Novell will have to digest its acquisitions. Although the company doesnt have to start this process from scratch (Linux software from Ximian and Novell were both already targeting SuSE as a platform), this transformation will entail a lot of integration work, and its sure to make waves in Novells product lines.
SuSE Linux, which exists in server and desktop editions, will benefit from Novells large reseller and training operations, although it will take time for these organizations to get up to speed on Linux.
Novell has stated that it doesnt intend to completely ditch NetWare for Linux—at least for now—but it seems likely that the addition of SuSE Linux will hasten NetWares demise. Novell has already ported many of the services that make NetWare NetWare to Linux, and Linux runs on many more sorts of hardware than does NetWare. Where NetWare supports only x86 machines, SuSE Linux runs on those systems, as well as 64-bit architectures from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Intel Corp., and on IBM mainframe systems as well.
Another place in which Novells recently acquired product lines could come into conflict is on the desktop. The desktop version of SuSE Linux, which has impressed us in eWEEK Labs tests in the past, ships with KDE as its default desktop environment. (GNOME may be installed as an option.)
Ximian, however, is a major site for GNOME development. Although KDE is an excellent desktop environment, GNOME is the default interface for Red Hat, Solaris and the new Java Desktop System, and Novell might opt to make GNOME the new face of SuSE by default. This move could alienate current SuSE sites and would deprive KDE of one of its biggest commercial adherents.
Along similar lines, Novell will have to address a number of spots in which its solutions overlap. For instance, Novell already offers two mail solutions, GroupWise and NetMail, and the SuSE deal brings another groupware product, SuSEs Openexchange Server, into the mix.
In many cases, Novell will find itself offering competing free and proprietary products that serve the same function, as is the case with Novells Extend Application Server and with Tomcat, both of which ship with NetWare 6.5.
In addition to the effects that Novells open-source acquisitions will have on its own product lines, the moves will likely affect the offerings of others, as well. Sun Microsystems Inc.s Java Desktop System, for instance, uses SuSE as its base Linux distribution, atop which Sun layers a GNOME interface—a combination thats similar to what Novell will likely offer.
Also, the SuSE deal will shift Novells relationship from that of partner to direct competitor. Novell has stated that it will continue to target Red Hat as a platform for its software, even as it pushes SuSE as a primary option.
Theres also the question of whether Novell will continue to support Red Hats distributions with Ximians Red Carpet, a system update service that could prove more vital than ever for users of Red Hats popular general- purpose distribution, for which Red Hat will soon discontinue support on its Red Hat Network service.
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Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at [email protected].