SUSE Linux users nervous as Novell explores options

Novell is reportedly for sale, causing concern in SUSE Linux community.

Novell reportedly put itself on the market last week, leaving SUSE Linux Enterprise users unsure about the fate of that open source operating system and other Novell products.

If the report in The Wall Street Journal is true, the bidding kicks off two months after Waltham, Mass-based Novell's board turned down Elliott Partners $2 billion buyout offer. At that time, Novell said the price was inadequate, and it would explore other options, including stock buy-backs, cash dividends and more alliances.

A Novell spokesman provided no comment.

In the mean time, Novell last week released SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 Service Pack 1.

Still, the questions around the vendor's prospects have SUSE Linux users wondering what will become of the products they built their infrastructure on.

David O'Berry, a consultant and CIO for South Carolina Department of Probation, became a Master Novell Certified Engineer in the 1990s and has watched the company struggle since then.

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"Novell is getting very close to irrelevance," O'Berry said. "It's no longer the battleship it once was, and the company seems to be very confused right now. I'm frustrated at their lack of ability to execute on roadmaps and plans for the future."

O'Berry runs about 50 SUSE Linux servers said he was relieved when Novell turned down Elliot's offer, but worries about the integrity of other potential buyers.

"When you have a consortium of private investors or private equity firms looking at a technology company, you know they plan to tear it apart and suck the cash out. They don't care about the technology itself," O'Berry said. "I never thought I'd hear myself say this -- because I don't think the company that provides the needle should also provide the drugs - but someone like Microsoft or IBM needs to step in and take over."

Microsoft would be a logical suitor, he said, because the company already collaborates with Novell and SUSE Linux interoperates with Microsoft management offerings.

But other IT pros have given up on SUSE; O'Berry said he is one of the few he knows still using it in the field.

David Reynolds, IT manager with the Rhode Island Blood Center in Providence, uses Linux but hasn't used SUSE Linux since 2003 and he also worked with Novell's flagship Netware network operating system.

"[SUSE Linux is] a dying OS I'm afraid," Reynolds said. But, as a Linux fan, he wants someone to rescue Novell. "If someone can find value in Palm, there's hope for anyone I guess." (In late April, Hewlett Packard announced plans to buy Palm, the handheld device pioneer, for $1.2 billion.)

But, since Novell's legacy business has fallen on hard times , the SUSE business unit is its focus, so users shouldn't be nervous about losing it, said John Locke, President of the Seattle-based open source IT services firm Freelock Computing.

"While I really don't think SUSE is at risk, the other Linux desktop software projects might be," Locke said.

Novell is the steward of many Linux desktop applications, including Evolution, a Linux equivalent to Outlook; F-Spot, a photo manager; Tomboy, a sticky note application; Banshee, a music player/manager; and Mono, an open source implementation of the .NET platform.

It also offers the collaboration product GroupWise, which competes with Microsoft Exchange.

"Novell has done some tremendously important work in making desktop Linux as good as or better than Windows and Mac, as well as doing a lot to promote interoperability," Locke said. "I would hope whoever purchases Novell sees the importance of continuing to support these projects -- the entire Linux community benefits from this work, and it's largely paid for by the success of SUSE."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter

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