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Will Novell's SuSE buy be death knell for OSS?

Users weigh in on the impact Novell's proposed $210 million acquisition of SuSE would have on the Linux community.

Novell's announcement Tuesday of its intention to purchase SuSE Linux AG, the second largest open source server software provider, set the Linux and open source community abuzz.

Questions abound: Would a combined Novell-SuSE rival Microsoft? Is this the harbinger of death for open source software? Can Novell execute? Will Novell's ownership take it down SCO's path?

No one knows for sure. Although, of the 28 Linuxphiles who offered feedback to yesterday, most of them agree: The proposed buy is good news. Still, there are some reservations.

Some users are not so gung-ho about the acquisition. Some fear that Novell would jack up SuSE prices. Others believe that open source developers will sell to the highest bidder and not care whether their creations become part of a proprietary offering. Some, like help desk engineer Andrew Power, believe it's a death knell for open source software. "It could destroy the whole idea behind Linux," Power said.

Here, we present opinions from open source advocates who spoke out to dispel worries about the deal.

Marten Mickos, CEO of MySQL, Milpitas, Calif., said he believes that Novell had "no hidden agendas; they simply want to become a major open source player." After all, he said, Novell is not a hardware company that will drive a specific hardware strategy for SuSE. Also, he added, Novell -- as a platform provider -- is "also fairly neutral to business applications and other software, so there should be little risk that they make SuSE Linux less open or less generic."

Open source development isn't economically driven, said Samba Team co-founder and author John H. Terpstra. Rather, he said, developers are spurred by the challenge of creating solutions. All Novell is doing, he added, is picking up that innovation and making it commercially available and viable for enterprises.

Sam Greenblatt, chief Linux architect for Computer Associates International Inc., agrees, noting that having two strong enterprise Linux distributions is excellent for the industry.

Greenblatt's sentiment is seconded by SuSE fans who contend that Red Hat's dominance in the enterprise Linux market isn't good for the industry. For example, Alexandra Andrews -- webmaster for Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit organizations CancerLynx and its Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency -- said she believes that anyone who tests SuSE and Red Hat on their servers, as she did, will find the former easier to use and harder to destroy. Users like Andrews expressed hopes that competition with a stronger SuSE will push innovation in both Red Hat and SuSE.

Then again, some Linux users and consultants doubt that Novell will make SuSE stronger. Novell's lack of innovation and marketing savvy ran WordPerfect, NetWare and UnixWare into the ground, as well as Digital Research, Sirius and USL, they said.

"On the surface, this sounds great for the open source community," said consultant Kenneth Milberg. "On the other hand, if you look at the history of Novell, perhaps it doesn't bode as well."

Overall, Linuxphiles hope that Novell has learned from its not-so-brilliant past.

Instead of bringing Linux and open source down, Novell could offer "the Linux-using community -- and those who have yet to climb on board -- a phenomenal alternative," Terpstra said. The acquisition will be a shot in the arm for both Novell and SuSE, according to the open source advocate. "It reflects a clear determination on Novell's part to recover lost ground," he added.

SuSE will gain much-needed U.S. marketing clout, said MySQL's Mickos. He agreed with Andrews' assessment that SuSE is a technically excellent product. Yet, Mickos said, "they have not been overly successful in all markets. With the help of Novell, they may grow their presence, especially in the North American market."

Mickos said the acquisition could put the Linux desktop on the corporate map. "Novell has the customer base, the brand name, the channel, and the money to make that happen," he said. Novell's recent acquisition of Ximian is driving interest in enterprise Linux desktops, he said, and this is the next step.

The Novell-SuSE deal would also give Linux a much-needed shot of support clout, Greenblatt said. "The excellent global support that Novell brings to the open source community will help continue market adoption of the Linux market from the desktop to the server," he said.

Despite their fears, Linuxphiles said they have high hopes that the Novell-SuSE combo will be a great thing for enterprise Linux adoption. Those hopes will live or die, they said, on Novell's ability to do it right this time around.


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