Novell: Free SLES while the fire is hot

Novell: Free SLES while the fire is hot

Summary: My "Free Enterprise OSes" post got a lot of attention and a lot of positive feedback, particularly from those who are now actually considering using some of these in order to reduce license costs.Still, while I am glad people are now considering these OSes as real enterprise computing solutions, a nagging feeling remains along the lines of the Cookie Monster's famous platinum hit,  "One of these things is not like the other.



My "Free Enterprise OSes" post got a lot of attention and a lot of positive feedback, particularly from those who are now actually considering using some of these in order to reduce license costs.

Still, while I am glad people are now considering these OSes as real enterprise computing solutions, a nagging feeling remains along the lines of the Cookie Monster's famous platinum hit,  "One of these things is not like the other. One of these things does not belong."  And that thing is openSUSE, particularly when included in the list with CentOS/Scientific, Solaris and BSD.

Look, I like openSUSE. A lot. I fought to get SuSE Linux Professional released into Open Source when the idea wasn't even a twinkle in Novell's eye. I run openSUSE on several of my personal systems, and I have it virtualized up the ying-yang on VMWare ESX 3i. And while openSUSE is stable, it's not optimized for server use, it's more of an end-user/developer OS, even though it could be "purposed" as a server and I frequently do this myself. However, openSUSE's 2-year support cycle makes it viable as a server only for the most agile software development shops.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

What I really want is something the lines of an openSLES -- in other words, a free version of SLES with free security and bugfix updates, with the support lifecycle to back it up.

Novell could easily do this tomorrow -- SLES 10 is already a free download, but the updates require support entitlements. All they have to do is put up the updates and the source for the updates on a free repository and give the source tree to the openSUSE project for building and maintaining openSLES -- or even get the CentOS guys in on the action if they want to spin their own flavor. CentOS "Green", perhaps? Dag Wieers, one of the primary developers of CentOS,  stated nearly a year ago that a Free SLES clone would be desirable, but that that the interest to build a Free SLES from Novell's SRPMs at the time of his writing was not there and that major philosophical and ideological changes in the way Novell currently interacts with the Open Source community would have to come about in order for it to be realized.

Of course, that was a year ago, when the "401-Keg" wasn't a viable investment strategy. I suspect that if a Free SLES did exist, it would gain rapid adoption in short order.

Given the fact that SLES isn't likely to take the #1 Enterprise Linux server OS position from Red Hat without some major incentives, now that businesses are cutting costs all over, this may be the one opportunity that Novell has in order to gain some major SLES momentum and grab SMB market share from RHEL and dare I say it, Windows Server. Yes, they would be giving up some update entitlement income, but they'd be seeding their OS everywhere and where you have seeds, you have gardens that grow for future professional services and software sales, particularly as these businesses do recover and will want "priority" technical support and patches, as well as other Novell products to manage their SLES infrastructure later on, such as PlateSpin and ZEN.

No doubt, releasing an Open Source SLES  would be a risky move on Novell's part, but I think that the support model could be structured in such a way that openSLES could be community-supported only and have no phone support, and the commercial SLES would have priority support of different flavors. Truth be told, more often than not, and this is from a large amount of personal experience, the larger customers want the support contracts and paid entitlements, so they can hold something over the vendor's head in case things go wrong -- otherwise known as the "we need somebody we can sue" rationale.

One of Novell's competitors, Sun Microsystems, manages to strike a nice balance with Solaris 10 by re-mastering the freely downloadable install media every year, but provides premier support options as well -- for both Solaris and OpenSolaris. There's a lot of things that Sun does that makes me shake my head, but in this case as it pertains to support of their Open Source/Free OS, they have a good model.

Short of a free SLES, as Yoda has said, "There is another". And that would be to take openSUSE and do a "Server Edition" a la Ubuntu. I discussed this with our Community Incorporated blogger Joe Brockmeier, Mr. openSUSE, and he told me he's "happy to see openSUSE contributors repackage openSUSE in ways that make sense for them. The whole point of the openSUSE Build Service is to allow innovation in and around openSUSE. If that means packaging a 'openSUSE server' custom build, that'd be great."

To build an openSUSE Server or a "CentOS Green" distro I would like to see the developers take a subset of the openSUSE codebase and match it on a package-by-package basis with SLES in terms of base functionality, and run it on a stable kernel, such as the SLES/SLED kernel which has SRPMs available. And to make it truly viable it would need to have a minimum support cycle with updates and patches of 3 to 4 years.

Novell needs to make a grab for customer mindshare now while traditional software paradigms and established players are being challenged. Do we need an openSLES, a "CentOS Green" or openSUSE Server Edition? Talk Back and let me know. 

Topics: Hardware, CXO, Open Source, Operating Systems, Servers, Software, IT Employment


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Free SLES

    Yes, we do in fact need an openSLES, a ?Centos Green? or openSUSE Server Edition.
  • CentOS Green: yes. openSUSE server: no

    The support period for openSUSE, although relatively long and perfect for desktop use (kudo's for that!), is still not long enough for servers.

    So a CentOS Green would be ideal for servers. In fact, I would like to try a CentOS Green on my laptop as well.
  • RE: Novell: Free SLES while the fire is hot

    I don't think Novell will go along with this.
    For one, the basic YaST install has all of the server functions built in as 'optional' patterns.

    It is a two minute exercise to install a headless server vs a Desktop--simply edit the software selections, switch to 'patterns', under 'Graphical Environments' remove the Gnome or KDE base and Desktop Environments packages, in the 'Server Functions' select 'Web and LAMP' and begin your install.
    Resizing and/or creating partitions to accommodate moving the mount point for /srv, /home, etc. is made 'easy' with YaST.

    So, I am not sure an openSUSE 'Web Server Edition' makes sense.

    To a large extent you get 'bleeding edge' new technology in openSUSE, but most of stable 'good stuff' in openSUSE 11.0 will automatically merge 'later' in 2009 to the upcoming SLED/SLES 11.0.

    Hats off to Jason Perlow for plugging openSUSE! :)

    [url=]Linux IT Consultant[/url]
    • openSUSE is a very good alternative for Ubuntu

      I like openSUSE 11.0 a lot. Ubuntu 8.04 is still a little bit better for me, but only a little. If Ubuntu would disappear, I would immediately switch to openSUSE on all of my computers.

      The advantages of openSUSE are the reliability and stability, the long support period (2 years of updates for each version) and the easy way of adding multimedia support.

      Strangely, the community of users seems to be relatively small. openSUSE is still an undiscovered beauty for the general public.
  • Sorry guys...

    SUSE is good but as long as the Microsoft deal stands I don't wish to see SUSE proliferate in any way.
    Tim Patterson
    • Looking ahead

      I agree, that deal was unfortunate and I was upset at the time.

      However, I think we should look ahead, in the interest of Linux in general.

      In the first place, Novell contributes a lot to kernel development. Much more, by the way, than (for example) Ubuntu.... This kernel development benefits all Linux users.

      And also Novell has great input in other developments, in Linux applications. This, too, benefits us all.

      If openSUSE would die, and SLED with it, that would be a shattering blow for Linux in general. I certainly hope that that will never happen.
      • Excellent point

        Novell funnel a significant portion of changes into Linux and the openSUSE development team are doing just fine with their current arrangement.

        People should realize that MS have more to gain from the Covenant and InterOp than Novell from a business standpoint. They were the ones who got fined by the EU for failing to document their network APIs.

        Novell are litigating their [url=]WordPerfect case against MS[/url]. (It is alleged by Novell that MS changed their APIs without notifying them, which caused their WordPerfect product to 'break', in order to gain an unfair competitive advantage with MS Word.)

        It doesn't change anything for Novell to issue certificates to purchase SLED/SLES. That aspect of Novell's relationship with MS will sunset.

        It's 'business as usual' with Novell.
    • What a small mind!

      Get over it.

      The MS deal has actually been good for Novell. And like it or not, what is good for Novell is good for Open SuSE and everyone that uses Open SuSE.

      I hope you and everyone like you quits using Open SuSE. I hate to think someone with as little intellegence as yourself is using the same OS I'm using.
      • No cause for insults; Just disagree and say why bjbrock

  • Where would the money come from?

    Novell's SLES without support and with updates is $349 or less. Offering openSLES would mean Novell throwing away that money but not loosing any of the costs of providing the updates and staff. I doubt the existence of CentOS increases sales of RedHat. There could be demand for 'CentOS Green' but I think it would need to be a project not run by Novell because if openSLES was identical to SLES there would be no way to market SLES. Why pay $700 for the 'with support' SLES if you can get openSLES and know that every fix Novell engineers provide for their supported customers will get to you at the same time anyway? Novell doesn't even charge for a support incident if there is a defect found so with the support only model the only way Novell could make money is by having many people calling who can't figure out how to use SLES... hardly an incentive to make a user friendly product.
  • RE: Novell: Free SLES while the fire is hot

    I used suse since 5.0 Remember those days?

    I had 25 machines running suse 5.10 in a Internet cafe/lab 11 years ago.

    I changed to *ubunto three years ago. Why? The forum and the friendly attitude there.
    I could easily recommend that distro and all of its colors to friends, businesses and Schools.

  • RE: Novell: Free SLES while the fire is hot

    I used suse since 5.0 Remember those days?

    I had 25 machines running suse 5.10 in a Internet cafe/lab 11 years ago.

    I changed to *ubunto three years ago. Why? The forum and the friendly attitude there.
    I could easily recommend that distro and all of its colors to friends, businesses and Schools.

  • RE: Novell: Free SLES while the fire is hot

    There are currently more than a couple of very competent products extant. Is there something special about Suse that would like to share with us? Valued features and/or capabilities available nowhere else? Inquiring minds want to know!
  • So the way to make money is to stop charging for the product.

    Because some day the beneficiary of your generosity might volunteer to buy a contract from you. This makes a great deal more sense than charging for the contract as a requirement, because then you might have revenues, and those only complicate the balance sheet.

    No, as every company knows, selling your main product is reprehensible and immoral. Far better not to survive than to sully your hands with commerce.

    Just as the ideal of monasticism is separation from the concerns of the world and reliance on the generosity of admirers, so any Linux advocate knows that the only way to make money is to allow people to come to you and force it on you in gratitude for your many valuable gifts.

    Selling the code would be like monasteries selling wine or the produce of their fields and apiaries. An inappropriate crassness.
    Anton Philidor
    • How is this different

      From what Sun does with Solaris?

      SLES in and of itself is one of the least important products in Novell's portfolio. It's the other software that sits on top of it that is important, such as eDirectory, OES, ZENWorks, GroupWise, PlateSpin. Not to mention integration services. All of that could be sold. SLES is an enabling technology for the Novell stack.

      And again, a free SLES would have to differentiate in terms of the support model from the paid one. Everyone expects a paid product to have reliable and dedicated download sites for paying customers as well as telephone support incidents . With a free OS, you don't.
      • Yes, just like Sun's disastrous decision on Solaris

        At each meeting with stock analysts Mr. Schwartz brightly argues the success of Sun's open source strategy. There's a long moment of head-shaking silence and later the stock falls a few more cents. While the analysts are foolish about Sun in some ways - their solution is always to lose the creative employees in order to improve margins - they're correct on this issue.

        The idea was supposed to be that freeing Solaris - at the sacrifice of continuing revenue - would increase developer interest. That hopeful strategy has the obvious chicken and egg disadvantage: no popularity without applications, no applications without popularity.

        In a recent discussion on this subject Murph was led to pronounce that scads of applications are being written for and ported to Solaris, but there's no market to create a financial return for all this effort. You'd think that the developers would learn after awhile that they're wasting their time, but apparently not.

        The idea that Novell's own applications would make up for the loss of SuSE revenue is, I think, disproven by the result of Microsoft's effective effort to sell SuSE. Novell's financial results improved, and the gain came from the SuSE sales. Whatever other software buyers of SuSE are using, the choices of potential customers are not necessarily changed by iusing SuSE.

        In fact, SuSE is, along with Red Hat's Linux, one of two commercioal Linuxes. That means, among other considerations, non-Novell applications are assured to work on SuSE. So a main reason for buying SuSE is that the competition to Novell's stack works.

        I wouldn't be optimistic about stack sales. And hasn't Novell suffered enough damage from open source already?
        Anton Philidor
      • Maybe Ok for hobbyists and web servers...

        But the truth of the matter is that in a true enterprise it's the support of the business that matters. I use to be a big Novell fan years ago, then slowly but surely Microsoft changed the game and they couldn't keep up. I support a Novell environment now - without Active Directory. It's not fun. There are so many limitations with the Novell products and their integration with anything that we can't wait to retire all the Novell products. Zenworks is a resource hog, Groupwise is horrible, and the necessity of using Dynamic Local User with the Netware client means there is NO integration beyond the servers. It's just much simpler to support AD and it's extensive support by third parties.

        Other factors that will limit the proliferation of Linux is end users and the availability of experienced support personnel. Everyone is familiar with Windows - even the Linux guys who hate MS. There are so many flavors of Linux that it's like supporting a non-standard system. Sure the commands may be similar, but what about drivers and software compatibility? It's just not there to the same extent a mission-critical IT shop needs. The cost saved up front is offset by the additional support costs required in the long run.

        Reality check - I'd like to see world peace and harmony, but it's not going to happen. I'd like to see all software be free - but you get what you pay for.
  • RE: Novell: Free SLES while the fire is hot

    An open SLES would be a good idea for Novell. It would give them a chance to open up the O/S to some new ideas and improvements and encourage people to run their Open Enterprise products if Novell chose to offer them. It definitely would increase their market share in the long run. We run an Active Directory and eDirectory environment with Identity Manager syncing our databases, and I have to's ideal. Both databases have some limitations that are easily remedied by running both. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons you see Novell and Microsoft being so friendly with one another.
  • RE: Novell: Free SLES while the fire is hot

    Novell mastered "Stealth Marketing" 10 years ago, this could be a way for the general public, CEO's and others that read magazines on airplanes to get to know the name again. I don't think it would hurt, besides what percent of the server market does Novell currently have .001%. Don't read me wrong, started with Novell and have always considered it superior to Winders, but it lost favor with those that control the $.