If you were to separate the winners from the losers at this year's CeBIT, SuSE would definitely be standing among the winners. The German Linux distributor started the trade show on the right foot with a visit from German Interior Minister Otto Schily, creating huge public attention.
SuSE's new chief executive, Gerhard Burtscher, has a lot on his plate. On 1 December last year he not only accepted the role of chief executive from Johannes Nussbickel, but also took on the management of five newly created business units.
High on Burtscher's to-do list is getting SuSE ready for AMD's forthcoming 64-bit chip, Hammer. He is also focusing on business clients while continuing to embrace the Linux and open-source community, and last but not least, managing the German parliament's mandate to equip its servers with SuSE Linux. And then there's SuSE Linux 8: currently available for free, there will soon be a price tag attached.
SuSE is pushing to have its server software ready in November, in time for the launch of Hammer late in the year, according to product manager Stefan Werden. "As soon as Hammer is officially available, our operating system package will be too," he said.
SuSE and AMD announced plans to adapt version 2.6 of the Linux kernel for the x86-64 architecture in February. Linux development groups have long supported the Hammer architecture, but SuSE hopes to get some additional marketing mileage from its AMD relationship. "We want to be the first Hammer (operating system) platform," Burtscher explained.
So far, the move seems to be paying off. Two weeks ago, for example, AMD demonstrated a prototype Hammer chip running 64-bit SuSE Linux and 32-bit Windows.
Why didn't California-based AMD go with a US Linux distributor? "AMD's decision to collaborate with us on Hammer is probably due to our reputation for German 'seriousness'," said Burtscher. "They know how quickly and easily our distribution can be modified to suit various platforms," added Werden.
SuSE, like many other "commercial" Linux distributors, remains critical of hard-core Linux advocates and of the Free Software Foundation led by Richard Stallman more than any other. Stallman last summer criticised Ransom Love of Caldera for the company's "parasitical" relationship to the open-source development community, and Burtscher expects a similar response to SuSE's decision to charge fees. "I suppose the term 'licence fees' alone must irritate certain puritans," he said. "We are enhancing Linux with additional services and asking money for it. Rightfully, too. No revenue, no client support."
The company also promotes its direct contributions to the Linux kernel and collaboration with developers on the KDE project, a graphical user interface for Linux.
SuSE may soon have the opportunity to demonstrate Linux's stability and security by switching all of the German parliament's servers over to Linux, while allowing clients to continue using Microsoft applications. A commission recently recommended that the move be made based on an independent survey carried out for the parliament.
SuSE is the hot favourite to deliver the new server. "Although this isn't a victory yet for Suse, it is for Linux", proclaimed Burtscher. "We still need to go through the final phases of the application procedure and then wait for a final decision from the Parliament's Ältestenrat. We're hoping, of course. This means a lot to us."
SuSE Linux version 8 promises to deliver a range of improvements from version 7.3, according to spokesman Christian Egle, including a completely new installation process. Egle said YaST1 has been dropped for good, and all its features integrated into the new YaST2. The desktop software KDE 3 has also drawn a lot of attention.
Other main features of SuSE Linux 8 include:
- Linux kernel 2.4.18
- glibc 2.2.5
- KDE 3.0
- GNOME 1.4.1 RC1
- New mouse configuration tool
- DMA activation module for hard drives and CD-drives
- Backup module