SuSE looks to buffer Linux 'changeability'

Corporate customers have less latitude to tweak Linux software they buy from SuSE: they still get the source code, but if they want the support they have to abide by extra licensing terms

SuSE, the German Linux distributor, is increasingly trying to insulate its corporate customers from what many see as a core trait of open-source software: its changeability.

With a corporate reorganisation at the end of last year, the company decided to step up its efforts to tailor its software to large businesses running high-end machines like mainframes. The result is stricter control of its corporate software, called SuSE Linux Enterprise Server, whose technical support terms require that customers don't make too many changes of their own.

While the move doesn't affect the way SuSE's software itself is licensed, it is a philosophical shift away from one of the advantages that made Linux popular: the ability of users to freely tweak the software to suit their own purposes.

"The evolutionary aspect of Linux, which we're proud and happy to be a part of, can nevertheless be a huge problem (in the enterprise market)," said Jurgen Geck, SuSE's head of technology partners and strategic alliances.

With its general distribution, SuSE Linux Professional, the firm puts its effort into the parts of the software that interact with the end user, allowing much more flexibility under the hood -- for example, SuSE 8.0, released on Friday, includes a brand-new graphical user environment called KDE 3.0.

But with Enterprise Server the company has to keep the software consistent across multiple hardware platforms, as well as fine-tuning it for enterprise applications like SAP. As a result the operating system software must be fixed into place to a greater extent.

"It is really a Unix-like offering based on Linux," Geck said. "It has much more defined features and a set roadmap, and offers a huge degree of reliability."

Enterprise Server, currently at version 7, runs on Intel 32- and 64-bit platforms, Sparc and IBM PowerPC server platforms. A version based on the new 8.0 Professional release is planned for later this year.

SuSE's increased enterprise focus is driven by its relationship with IBM, which is using SuSE software on mainframes. "When we started deploying on IBM mainframes, it also changed our business model," Geck said.

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