Novell's Microsoft deal isn't denting Red Hat

Research claims that Red Hat is continuing to outdo rival Novell, despite the Suse distributor's backing from Microsoft.
Written by Peter Judge, Contributor

Red Hat's lead in the Linux market is growing, while Novell's controversial deal with Microsoft is alienating users and bringing in only short-term revenue, according to an open-source specialist.

According to research released by open-source content-management vendor Alfresco this week, the number of companies choosing to deploy its software on Red Hat Enterprise Linux is increasing considerably faster than the number of those deploying on Novell Suse Linux.

According to Alfresco's Open-Source Barometer--a global survey of 10,000 people who have bought, downloaded or registered an interest in Alfresco's content-management software--deployments of Alfresco on Red Hat grew twice as fast as those on Suse in the quarter from April to June. Alfresco puts this finding down to Novell's controversial patent agreement with Microsoft.

"This finding suggests that customers may not like the terms of the deal as more information became public," said Ian Howells, chief marketing officer for Alfresco and author of the Barometer report. The report is a good reflection of enterprise operating system usage, he said, since Alfresco is an enterprise-level application that can be installed on various Linux versions or Windows.

Industry analysts have backed up the results of the Alfresco survey and predict that Red Hat will continue to outgrow Novell's distribution.

"Red Hat had 54 percent of paid server shipments worldwide in 2006, while Novell had 26 percent," said Nathaniel Martinez, programme manager at IDC's European enterprise server solutions group. "Novell has a good deal with Microsoft, but Red Hat will increase its market share."

The overall Linux revenues at Novell have been growing rapidly in the past six months--in the quarter ending in May, its Linux business jumped 83 percent to US$19 million--but commentators have pointed out that a lot of this is short-term revenue from the Microsoft deal, which promisesUS$240 million over five years. "Non-Microsoft-related pieces of the Linux business fell 39 percent in the second quarter compared to the first quarter," said ZDNet.com blogger Larry Dignan.

Red Hat, meanwhile, increased its Linux revenue to more than US$100 million in the same quarter, up by around 38 percent on the same quarter the previous year.

Novell was approached for comment but did not reply in time for this article.

Alfresco's results also showed an apparent lag in the U.K.'s Linux adoption compared with other European countries--bucking the normal trend for U.S.-led innovations, which tend to filter out through the U.K. to the rest of Europe. "The survey found that the U.S. is leading open-source adoption globally," said Howells in the report. However, in Europe, where Howells says open-source adoption is often driven by governments seeking better value for their citizens, the U.K. is lagging behind France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

"The research showed that the U.K. lags behind in the adoption of open source, suggesting less government emphasis compared with other European countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Italy," said Howells.

Alfresco is deployed worldwide in 2,000 organizations, unlike many open-source projects, and can therefore give a good insight into open-source trends in large companies, Howells argued. The report looked at software choices at different levels, including operating system, database, application server and content management, and found users are creating "mixed stacks", with software from different sources.

"The survey shows there is a clear leader at each level of the open-source stack, but also indicates an increasing trend for organizations to adopt a mixed stack, combining both open-source and proprietary software, to enable use of best-of-breed components," said Howells. "The survey also illustrated that organizations require the flexibility to make component changes within the stack between evaluation and deployment phases."

As well as a surge in Red Hat, the survey also found that Windows was popular for evaluating the Alfresco software, but less popular for its deployment. Windows and Linux were equally popular in evaluation, on around 42 percent each, while Linux made up 52 percent of planned deployments compared with 29 percent for Windows.

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