Novell pledges to continue close ties to Linux community

Novell CTO Alan Nugent tells Usenix that the vendor will develop its proprietary products only where there are no open source alternatives.

BOSTON – Goodwill has been heaped upon the new kid on the Linux block, Novell Inc., since it pledged its full-fledged

devotion to the OS and the community via recent high-profile acquisitions and internal philosophical changes.

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And rightly so, many observers would say. Not only has Novell thrown its engineering, support and sales muscle behind SuSE Linux to become the No. 2 distributor, but it has already opened several important proprietary tools to the open source community.

Novell senior vice president and chief technology officer Alan F. Nugent told Usenix '04 Technical Conference attendees Monday that the company will continue to be a good open-source citizen, and expand its proprietary development only in areas that have not been commoditized by open source or competing closed-source products.

While some users challenged Nugent's announcement as a self-serving gesture, a point Nugent conceded could be viewed that way, he said Novell's decision to do so would depend on how much interest there is in the open source community in such a product.

"Why re-invent the wheel?" Nugent said.

Nugent offered insight into Novell's transition from strictly a proprietary company to an open source business model and its strategy as a "mixed-source company."

"It's not just about technology and internal integration, it's about a new business model and collaborating with the community to bring the value customers are looking for," Nugent said.

Nugent said his job is to make open source "part of Novell's DNA" by examining the vendor's product stack and filling in the gaps as Novell moves from a world of trade secrets, patents and copyrights to one of kernel contributors, maintainers and providing support contracts.

"It's about being a trustee [of open source], co-existing with the community and aligning our ecosystem with open source," Nugent said.

Novell's acquisition of SuSE in January gave it solid Linux server technology to attack the enterprise market, Nugent said. It also gave the vendor a respected and influential presence among kernel developers that it intends to bolster. Already, Novell has opened the source code for YaST (Yet another Setup Tool), the Ximian Connector and iFolders (file-serving and sharing technology), and he hinted that might not be the end of Novell's generosity.

"We want our folks at Novell and SuSE to grow and be respected as maintainers," Nugent said. "We won't build proprietary solutions in the path of an open source alternative. We also want to be a leader in how we co-exist with the community and standards organizations. We want to set and adhere to standards for interoperability's sake."

On the other hand, don't expect to see Novell's expensive, proprietary identity management software, for example, head for the open source tree any time soon.

"If we've got technology that the community is not interested in, what's the point," Nugent said.

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