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August 10, 2005

Novell opens up development for SUSE Linux

While you could always get your hands on the source code behind Novell's SUSE Linux Professional version of the Linux operating system, the process that Novell went through to create that bleeding-edge Linux was completely closed off. But Novell is opening up the process whereby it develops its desktop and server implementations of Linux through the establishment of the openSUSE project.

By CBR Staff Writer

The project was announced at the LinuxWorld trade show in San Francisco, and openSUSE performs the same function for Novell as Red Hat’s Fedora Project does for that rival of Novell’s. It will get new features in front of die-hard Linux users and will eventually allow community development of the software that will be put into future enterprise Linux releases.

The rumor before the announcement was that Novell would put the beta version of the future SUSE Professional 10.0 source code, code-named Prague, out there on the openSUSE site. Novell did more than this, in fact, and it released all of the source code for the current SUSE Linux Professional 9.3 as well as the code for the SUSE Professional 10.0 beta.

Just like the Fedora Project is how Red Hat collects and integrates future Linux and related open source projects together to allow developers to create and ambitious beta testers to test its future Linux releases, Novell has used SUSE Linux Professional to give its customers and partners a snapshot every six months or so of the features that it has working in its Linux implementation.

According to David Patrick, vice president and general manager of Linux, open source platforms, and services at Novell, the advent of the openSUSE project is due to two factors. First, customers and partners wanted to have earlier access to beta code so they could play with it; second, some customers and partners wanted to actually have a say in the SUSE Linux roadmap and some even wanted to contribute code and help out.

So the openSUSE project was created to facilitate this, and he was obviously not keen on admitting the similarities to the Fedora Project over at rival Red Hat. We are opening up the front end of the product, Mr Patrick explained. This is about bringing outside developers earlier into the development process.

So why now, instead of two years ago, when Novell acquired SUSE and bought its way into the Linux business? (And for the second time, if you count Ray Noorda’s investment in Caldera Systems, now known as the SCO Group.) Mr Patrick said that Novell believes that it has created the best and most-integrated version of a commercial Linux platform, and that it took two years for Novell to perfect its own internal processes for making sure the development process behind SUSE Linux worked properly.

But if SUSE wants to make money, the company knows that it needs to make its entry Linux free and easy to get, just like Fedora Core releases are over at Red Hat.

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You’re going to see us get a lot more aggressive about getting SUSE Linux into people’s hands, he said. I think we need to work on the commodity part of the market-edge servers, the LAMP stack, and so forth. In the enterprise space, we are very happy with the momentum we have in the market.

To boost the installed base of any open source program that has fee-based services, software makers can trade beta testing services from enthusiasts in exchange for free but limited support and easy access to the open source code behind the full product.

Like Red Hat with Fedora and Sun Microsystems Inc with its open source OpenSolaris and freeware Solaris 10 downloads, Novell is gambling that it can quickly build a vast installed base of enthusiasts who would not pay for SUSE Linux Professional and who do not want to root around on the Novell site get find source code and bug fixes.

The easier and quicker it is to get a Linux distribution, the more downloads Red Hat and Novell can get. And the enthusiasts who download the software end up recommending that brand of Linux at their companies or buying commercialized versions with full support when the situation demands it.

Two years ago, the goal was to create the best Linux on multiple platforms, explained Mr Patrick at the announcement of openSUSE at the LinuxWorld show yesterday. At the time, we felt we needed a significant amount of control over the process for the sake of quality.

Novell has created a concurrent versions system repository called AutoBuild to manage the process of culling updates to the thousands of open source projects that are embodied in the SUSE Linux distribution.

The package maintainers who work at Novell have been using AutoBuild to select code from the projects out there in the ether and deciding what goes into each SUSE Professional release; after a new feature and the code behind it makes it into SUSE Professional and is released commercially, it is tweaked, tested, and extended up to the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server edition and pushed down into the Novell Linux Desktop edition.

The big change with openSUSE is that the package maintainers at Novell will be in contact with the openSUSE community, who will be submitting bug reports and fixes as well as suggestions for what should be included. The community will also have access to full roadmaps and a say in what goes in them, said Mr Patrick. What they will not get immediately, however, is access to the AutoBuild system.

The openSUSE release does not replace SUSE Linux, which is the new name for what used to be called SUSE Linux Professional. Rather, openSUSE is the process by which SUSE Linux – the core code that eventually goes into servers and simple desktops but which is always released for regular desktops and laptops first – is going to be created.

In order for the openSUSE community to get up to speed on where Novell is and where it is going, it makes sense that the production code behind SUSE Professional 9.3 and the beta code behind SUSE 10 would both be released at the openSUSE site. The SUSE 10.0 beta software includes Novell’s AppArmor security, an improved desktop search function, Xen virtualization, and updates to the Mono and Eclipse development tools.

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