Thoughts on OpenSUSE

Thoughts on OpenSUSE

Summary: A few months ago, Linux Magazine columnist Jason Perlow suggested that Novell open SUSE Linux as a "public, open source project similar to Fedora." Thanks in part to Perlow's column, it looks like that's exactly what Novell is doing.


A few months ago, Linux Magazine columnist Jason Perlow suggested that Novell open SUSE Linux as a "public, open source project similar to Fedora." Thanks in part to Perlow's column, it looks like that's exactly what Novell is doing. Novell had planned to announce this at Linux World Conference and Expo, but it looks like it leaked out a bit early. (And they're not even suing anybody...)

Notice a trend here? Novell/SUSE was one of the last holdouts, in terms of doing "closed" development only for its distribution. Even Sun beat SUSE to the punch in going forward with OpenSolaris. But, better late than never. The writing on the wall is pretty clear: It makes no sense for a Linux vendor to follow a "closed" development model in developing a distribution. That's not to say Novell/SUSE has failed to produce a quality distribution over the years -- SUSE has consistently been one of the best distributions (at least in my opinion) for desktop and server use.

Despite its technical excellence, however, SUSE has failed to overtake Red Hat's lead in the Linux market. In truth, SUSE should have taken this step when Red Hat made the decision to have separate enterprise and "community" products. That would have been the time to catch all the users and organizations who were caught between enterprise pricing (RHEL) or a distro with a short life-cycle and little regard for stability between releases (Fedora).

Now that Novell is going forward with this, I have some suggestions. The top of the list is to make sure that people can easily contribute. Novell will need to move forward, quickly, with a public CVS or Subversion repository and a good system for granting commit access to developers outside the company. Obviously, Novell is going to take a hit to retail sales of SUSE Linux Professional, so they need to get the most bang for the buck by making SUSE the distribution that developers want to use and contribute to.

In my opinion, Red Hat did not do a very good job at community-building with Fedora Core out of the gate -- something Ubuntu has done spectacularly well in a very short time. Novell should look closely at Ubuntu as they move forward with OpenSUSE. I'd also recommend that Novell follow in Sun's footsteps in forming a Community Advisory Board (CAB) with members from outside Novell. I also like Sun's blogs, which provide some really nice insight into what's going on with OpenSolaris -- but it already looks like they have that covered.

A timed release cycle would also be a very good thing. This is working very well for Ubuntu, OpenBSD (which, I believe, was the first open source project to move to timed releases), GNOME and others. For community projects, a predictable release cycle is much better than a feature-based release cycle -- otherwise, things tend to get held up indefinitely while waiting for certain features. This also tends to motivate developers, who want to make sure they don't have to wait another six months for their pet project to make it into the stable release.

I'd also like to see Novell become part of the Debian consortium that Ian Murdock and others are working on, but I suspect that's highly unlikely.

I'm planning on being at LWCE next week, so I look forward to chatting with some of the Novell folks about OpenSUSE and getting the specifics of the project. If you had the chance to get some face-time with Novell, what would you want to know, or suggest for OpenSUSE?

Topic: Enterprise Software

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  • Please don't say Debian

    SuSE and Debian have very little in common. SuSE follows established UNIX naming and directory structures that Debian does not. Debian has its own software package (DEB), while SuSE uses RPM. Debian users are hackers, while SuSE users just want something that works. OK, enough venting . . .

    SuSE is indeed last to open up their distro. Mandriva and DeadRat did it long ago. In their defense, SuSE DID open their distro and worked with others in the UnitedLinux consortium - until SCO broke up that party. SuSE also suffered from 0 presence in USA, as happy Kraut nerds avoided the limelight. SuSE was more like a BSD distro than a Linux distro. Hopefully they saw the error of their ways and are now stepping out into the "real" world.
    Roger Ramjet
    • Again?

      Roger, you brought up the non-standard claim in this post ( but failed to back it up with any concrete examples. I suspect you just don't like Debian -- which is fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion -- but I'm not seeing any real reasons why Debian is worse than RPM-based distros. (Different, yes. Worse, no.)

      Both SUSE and Debian have naming and directory structures that differ from "established UNIX naming and directory structures."

      Yes, Debian uses Deb packages, SUSE uses RPM - so what? That doesn't make SUSE "standard" -- SUSE RPMs frequently don't work on other distros, as other distros RPM often won't work on SUSE. RPM and Deb-based distros are about even, really - RHEL, Fedora, Mandriva and SUSE use RPM, Debian, Ubuntu, Xandros, Linspire, Knoppix and many others use the Deb format.

      I'm not even going to dignify your generalization between Debian and SUSE users -- I like something that "just works" and that's one of my primary reasons for recommending Debian. (Note, I'm not saying that SUSE doesn't "just work.")
  • My goodness

    -Thanks in part to Perlow's column-

    These guys really do think quite a bit of themselves, don't they?
  • One question...

    ... which Novell will probably answer in a presentation: are they thinking of SuSE primarily as a separate product, or as part of a package with other Novell products?

    SuSE, remember, was supposed to help keep Netware from evaporating to Microsoft. Novell was supposed to be working on appealing packages for sale.

    Simplistically, if SuSE is now being treated as a separate product, that means they've given up hope for the rest of the catalogue.
    If SuSE is still being considered part of an effort to sell other products, then opening up SuSE is going to add complications.

    By far the most important issue for Novell is: what are they going to sell to make money?
    Anything else is detail.
    Anton Philidor
    • something for you to ponder

      Novell sells netware and the server version of SuSe with either a netware kernel or a linux kernel. They also sell the Novell Desktop OS, which in my opinion, is a fine product. Basically OpenSuse will be a tinker toy for them like fedora is for RHEL. People will donate time for a free OS, and in return the things that make this new OS free will add to Novell's bottom line in the updates to the SuSe server version and the Novell Desktop.

      The regular NetWare is still available, and now ZEn will work with the SuSe linux and the novell desktop, and i must say, it in itself actually runs circles around anything MS has provided to date. It will do many things and not just for it's own OS, it even will update the windows machines. This, in my opinion is the best part about Novell. Now only if they'd advertise, then they might get some of that former glory back.
      • Reasonable.

        If OpenSuSE is a "tinkertoy" that produces something that can be transferred, that's useful.

        Taking this comment from the article at face value, though:

        Obviously, Novell is going to take a hit to retail sales of SUSE Linux Professional, so they need to get the most bang for the buck by making SUSE the distribution that developers want to use and contribute to.

        the situation sounded like, say, Fedora competing with RHEL.

        Red Hat tried, I suspect, to make Fedora's development useful to their sold products. They apparently had to give up.

        How much a gain in sold products can Novell expect if they don't keep some degree of control, guiding development in directions they can leverage?

        The article to which we're responding is pleased Novell is taking chances with its strategy. We're not hearing much about bottom line advantages, though.

        I'll wish Novell luck, and, given the apparent hole they're in, they may well need it.
        Anton Philidor
      • I believe that you remember Novell with rose colored glasses.

        I don't bother with the Novell Desktop as a product because all of those components come with most Linux distros however I liked using Zen with Mono in the past, but one application from an acquired company that works correctly doesn't change my impression of the company. Recently I read that some of the people that made Suse what it is today have started leaving Novell. Suse will begin to slide under a Novell management. Novell fell from dominance for very good reasons, it was an overpriced and technically inferior to it's competitors which INCLUDED Microsoft. You seem to enjoy making cracks about MCSE's while I have exactly the same memories of CNE's; it really irritated me when we had to pay a CNE consultant twice what we paid our own people and I ended up teaching them how to do their job. Novell would still be big and sloppy as they ever were if they had never fallen from grace and I am confident that they would return to their previous behavior if they manage to regain a significant market share. I would not bet the farm on their future success.
  • It'll be interesting...

    To see how will OpenSuSE will catch up with either/both Ubuntu/Fedora. The later has become a very mature distribution, albeit the time it took them to achieve this; the former is what I catalogue as the [b]"quintesence"[/i] of Open Source. Not even the *BSD's have come close to what Ubuntu has accomplished, and much less in the short amount of time they've done it.
  • Don't Emulate Sun ...

    ... with their open <em>source</em> | closed <em>development</em> model.

    Neither nor OpenSolaris have progressed enough because Sun holds code commit rights.

    It would be better for Sun to use the MySQL model and not elevate expectations by promoting an openness that is illusory.