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A Linux enterprise with a view: On Red Hat, Novell and more

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) shares its thoughts on Red Hat's recent support announcement and the proposed Novell acquisition of SuSE.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) doesn't use Red Hat Linux Enterprise Edition. And this large government agency's enterprise Linux systems run just fine on versions that Red Hat will soon stop supporting, says AFMA systems manager Sean Lincolne. So, why move up, especially when there are other fish in the enterprise sea, like a possible SuSE distribution from Novell Inc.? In this interview, Lincolne explains how recent Linux distro announcements -- regarding Red Hat's decision to drop support of its consumer lines, and Novell's proposed acquisition of SuSE -- are playing Down Under.

Will you be affected by Red Hat's decision to stop supporting Red Hat Linux 9 and older versions?

Sean Lincolne: Most enterprise users who use Red Hat Linux will be affected, and it's certainly going to be detrimental. The only question is how bad will things get.

The widespread availability of Red Hat Linux has allowed many end users, hackers (the white-hat version), businesses and educational institutions to experience this product. This has helped develop the availability of skill and experience, not only within an organization, but in the marketplace as well. One of the attractions of Red Hat Linux is the large community of users who know its particular quirks.

If Red Hat deserts this part of the market, someone else will come in and fill the void, and the market will shift to follow it.

What do you think this means for Linux on the enterprise level?

Lincolne: At the enterprise level, the big question will be what Red Hat actually does. While I am aware that there is something called Red Hat Linux Enterprise Edition, I have never seen it, I have never been approached by anyone about it, and I have no idea why it is better than the 'ordinary' Red Hat. I would expect that we shall see some serious marketing from Red Hat regarding this.

There will probably be some challenges managing the transition with other companies, like HP and Dell. Many large suppliers ship Red Hat Linux with their servers as an option, and it will be interesting to see how they react to this news. I hope they don't simply decide it is too hard and just ship Windows. As a user of CA's Ingres RDBMS -- which was originally developed on Red Hat Linux -- I have no idea what recommendations I will see from CA and what impact they may have on our operations.

What does it mean at the consumer level?

Lincolne: At the consumer level, again, I would like to see what they come up with. Red Hat has a large following, and many companies recommend and distribute Red Hat. Again, if that option vanishes, people will be looking for an alternative. I wonder what the people at Novell and SuSE are planning.

That's a perfect segue. So, what does it mean to a Linux user that a major vendor like Novell is going to buy SuSE and -- like Oracle, HP and IBM -- is making a big commitment to Linux?

Lincolne: There has been a great deal of commitment shown by various vendors in the Linux arena to date. The contributions that have been made by companies such as Oracle, HP, IBM, CA, etc., only strengthen the credibility of Linux to enterprise customers. At the end of the day, these companies are interested in acting in the best interests of their stockholders and usually try to do things that make a profit.

Novell was certainly a major force in the '80s and '90s. As an ex-NetWare administrator, I found their product to be superior to anything available, and their commitment to end users was always strong. If that corporate ethic carries over to their involvement with SuSE, it can only be good for end users.

I've also read other materiel on the Net regarding the proposed acquisition process. Not only are Novell's [leaders] acquiring the credibility and good will that SuSE has, they are apparently taking on most of their staff. So their intent appears to be not just buy the company, but use it to make their own holdings even more attractive to customers. Again, it appears to be a good thing for end users.

Do you expect a wave of other open source products being bought by commercial vendors?

Lincolne: Definitely. The one thing that sets open source products apart from commercial products is that they are cheap. Not only is [open source software] a bargain for customers, but the companies themselves are often the product of enthusiastic, motivated and talented people trying to make a buck. Sounds like the original Silicon Valley before the dot-com boom.

Investors and companies may still have scorched fingers from the dot-com boom, but those open-source products that have been able to weather the dot-com crash and still stay viable must be attractive to larger commercial companies. There are some services and products on the Internet that have had to go commercial to pay the bills.

Could you offer an example of open source software that has immediate commercial prospects?

Lincolne: An example of this is the DNS RBL services used by many organizations to combat the rise in spam. Some have had to go commercial to pay for their infrastructure costs.

Spam is a rising problem, and currently many organizations that are actively fighting this appear to be specifically targeted by spammers. Fighting back takes money, so here are companies that have a service that people need, and want cash -- either they go commercial or they fade away.

Do you think that Novell will benefit from buying SuSE?

Lincolne: I can't see how it could hurt them. From what I have heard, Novell is serious about Linux, and SuSE has been doing great things in Europe and has a large number of Linux-savvy people [behind it]. SuSE has been experimenting with products such as mail gateways and is clearly committed to being more than just another distribution packager.

While it's difficult to forecast what will happen based on pre-acquisition spin and marketing, It does seem to be a good thing for everyone.

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