New OpenSUSE Foundation will still be dominated by Novell

There seems to be some dismay that the post-Attachmate openSUSE will still be dominated by Novell. And, this is a concern because?
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

One of the questions that has yet to be completely answered by Attachmate's pending acquisition of Novell is what will happen to its associated community Linux, openSUSE. Some people in the open-source community, including my friends, Pamela Jones of Groklaw and Andrew "Andy" Updegrove, a founding partner at the law-firm, Gesmer Updegrove, are concerned that Attachmate/Novell will be calling the shots in the post-buyout openSUSE.

Much as I hate to disagree with two people I respect and like so much, I don't see why they think that there's a big deal is here.

Jones points out that "There's more than one stakeholder in the OpenSUSE foundation being set up, and you'll see that discussed in the log. Trademarks have economic value, and if the community is helping in building that value, I think it's logical that they should gain a share of ownership rights so as to get some share in that value and some say in what happens with the trademark."

She's right, of course. The other stakeholders should get something more than a virtual pat on the head, but they won't. This was also the case before Attachmate arrived on the scene. When push came to shove Novell has controlled openSUSE since the day it was first spun out.

Yes, its not a smart move that Novell's hand-picked openSUSE Board Chairman, Alan Clark,, doesn't have much in the way of openSUSE chops, but that's Novell's call. Again, openSUSE has never been independent of Novell.

Updegrove is also worried. His concerns focus on "While the current uncertainty over the future of the SUSE Linux Project may serve some unknown goal of Attachmate's, it certainly must be unsettling for the independent developers involved, and presumably for Novell's enterprise Linux users as well." He states that "It would be better for all concerned if Attachmate would make a frank public announcement today regarding its intentions for this new foundation."

I really don't see a need. Can there be any doubt that the new openSUSE group will exactly what the old one was: a community extension of the company. Like the Who song says, "Meet the old boss, same as the new boss." After all, this is how corporate open-source works.

For all that open-source people look at OuterCurve Foundation, the Microsoft-sponsored open-source group, with justified suspicion about its open-source support, and now some of us are casting worried glances at openSUSE's future, the truth is that corporations have always been in charge of their associated open-source groups.

Take Red Hat and Fedora, for example. In 2005, when Red Hat announced the formation of Fedora, its community Linux distribution and Fedora Foundation, the plan was for the Foundation to eventually have control of the Fedora distribution.

By April 2006, though, Red Hat's plans had changed. The then Red Hat's Community Development Manager Greg DeKoenigsberg explained to me at the time that the Fedora Foundation was not going to take charge of the operating system, after all. Instead, Red Hat was retaining some "control over Fedora decisions, because Red Hat's business model depends upon Fedora." Today, Red Hat continues to retain control of both the Fedora Foundation and the Fedora Linux distribution.

At one time, Novell also talked about loosening its strings on openSUSE. But even as the company made that offer, Novell kept the right to appoint the group's chairman and half of its board's members. This is independence?

It's the same in other communities. Ubuntu, for instance, isn't the same thing as its corporate parent, Canonical. But, really, if Mark Shuttleworth, founder of both, strongly suggests that say Unity be used in place of GNOME shell for the desktop for the next version of Ubuntu, is the Ubuntu community really going to tell him no? I don't think so!

Yes, there are open-source and free-software foundations that are independent of corporations. The Apache Software Foundation and the Free Software Foundation both spring immediately to mind. But, if a project is closely connected to a commercial program, at the end of the day, its corporate parent will be the ones calling the shots. It's always been that way. It always will be.

Of course, if Attachmate/Novell staying in charge really bothers openSUSE developers enough, they can always walk away and start their own openSUSE fork. That's always an option in open-source circles. After all, that's essentially what The Document Foundation developers did with LibreOffice (http://practical-tech.com/development/the-openoffice-fork-is-officially-here/) when they and Oracle decided they couldn't work together anymore on OpenOffice.

I rather doubt they will though. If they were inclined to see the world that way, they'd be working on such completely free-software Linux distribution such as BLAG, GnewSense, or Trisquel, not openSUSE.

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