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Attachmate sets SUSE course, but Linux faithful still worry about support

New SUSE Linux chief pledges continuity and customer care but users wonder how SUSE can compete with Red Hat and what will happen next.

The dust is settling in Attachmate’s purchase of Novell, with Attachmate officially announcing the leadership and organization of its new SUSE business unit on May 18. But despite management assurances,  SUSE users remain concerned about the future care and feeding of their Linux distribution of choice.

Nils Brauckmann, the unit’s new president and general manager, pledged “to build a dedicated and focused SUSE business unit, strengthen the SUSE brand with the SUSE logo and get the SUSE message to customers, alliances and the media, and align resources.”

He promised to better align relevant company resources—some of which had been shared with other groups—closer to SUSE.

All of that  sounds well and good but the SUSE Linux faithful still worry about how their Linux will be cared for longer term and how new ownership can arm it to compete better against Red Hat.

Can revamped SUSE gain ground on Red Hat?
SUSE Linux has an uphill climb against Red Hat, which most see as the de facto standard Linux for enterprises. SUSE watchers want to know how new ownership will address cloud and virtualization technologies to better compete with Red Hat and Ubuntu. Recent Gartner numbers showed Red Hat to be the fastest growing Linux distribution last year

Linux consultant, Bill Claybrook, a former Novell employee, doesn’t think SUSE can compete effectively without bigger changes.

“They will have to do a lot to try to compete with Red Hat,” said Claybrook. “SUSE is so far behind now in everything, especially cloud computing, that I don't see SUSE being able to compete.”

Claybrook thinks SUSE could do with some more housecleaning in the product management department in Nuremberg and boost its marketing efforts.

Others were more interested in the basic maintenance of the distribution itself. “My concerns are with ongoing support for the product and how it will be supported in the future,” said David Kitchen, an Australia-based Linux specialist.

Brauckmann  did not provide details on continuity of support, but he said that the development, product support, and management teams remain pretty much intact. Many former Novell developers and engineers in Nuremberg, Germany, and in Provo, UT, were moved from Novell’s Open Products division into a more narrowly focused SUSE business unit at Attachmate.

“The degree of focus and dedication is what makes it [the SUSE business unit] special,” said Brauckmann. “People working in it will have direct influence and accountability over the various business functions with SUSE Linux. Sales, marketing, and support will all have a more direct focus.”

SUSE back to German roots
Despite the relocation of SUSE headquarters back to Germany, Brauckmann said the new SUSE will not be Euro-centric.

“We will have development centers in Prague, Provo, India and China,” said Brauckmann. Sales, marketing and tech support will be global.

Some in the open source community wonder about the future of the community distribution, openSUSE, which has been historically supported by SUSE and then Novell. Brauckmann pledged that Attachmate will continue to support that the distribution and remain active in the free and open source software (FOSS) community.

He also pledged continued support of conferences, meetings and other events including the upcoming openSUSE conference, announced by openSUSE community manager, Jos Poortvliet.

“The biggest part of our team are not only SUSE employees but the SUSE community,” said Brauckmann. “We will participate in conferences and meetings and we will also continue to spend money on these events.”

Brauckmann said that SUSE roadmap remains unchanged.

“We really are concerned about continuity in our business,” said Brauckmann. “There are great fundamentals that have worked well so far. We are committed to the product we have and there are currently no changes to the existing roadmap.”

The openSUSE upcoming features listing includes some file system adaptations for btrfs and the addition of Unity, but doesn't seem to include any radical advances in the area of cloud or virtualization.

Despite all this talk about continuity, some in the SUSE community are not at all convinced that Attachmate will be home to SUSE Linux for long.

To some observers, the eventual sale of the business unit seems inevitable, with VMware being noted as the most likely purchaser based on previous interest the company showed in SUSE ownership.

While Kitchen cited support as his most immediate concern for SUSE Linux, the next words out of his mouth were: “ but also the company’s direction: Is it being broken up?”

So, it may be that Attachmate’s acquisition of Novell has prompted as many questions as it answered.

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