Novell from an openSUSE perspective
The relationship between openSUSE and Novell is pretty difficult to describe. Ideally openSUSE should be viewed 100% as a community project, where the people employed by Novell, who do the lion’s share of the work, are also seen as members of the openSUSE community on the same level as volunteer contributors. This works out pretty well, and keeps improving further. The volunteers and the Novell employees working on openSUSE generally get along great and in a very productive way.
But sometimes you wonder if the parts of Novell that are _not_ involved with openSUSE is friend or enemy. Every now and then they do something that really hurts us. It happens so often that the IRC community has come up with a name for the phenomenon – Novell Entropy Department (NED). The following examples spring to mind:
- Novell threatening to drop KDE from enterprise products a few years ago. This was extremely harmful to openSUSE’s credibility with KDE users, and still causes confusion to this day about where openSUSE stands on the matter of desktop environments. Remember that SUSE has and had a very KDE dominated user base.
- Forcing ZMD+friends onto SUSE Linux 10.1 while being completely immature. The harm that this did to openSUSE’s reputation simply cannot be exaggerated, and recovery is still far from complete.
- The Microsoft deal. While I think most criticism of the deal is without real substance, there can be no doubt that all the bad publicity has done tremendous harm to openSUSE. At least the situation could have been handled with more sensitivity towards the free software community – including Novell’s own employees.
- Novell marketing people such as Ted Haeger and Justin Steinman repeatedly saying openSUSE is just “bleeding edge for geeks and enthusiasts” and Justin Steinman even stating very publicly that Ubuntu was the best choice for Dell/consumers.
The latest such surreal incident happened yesterday. Suddenly the Novell login page, which is among other things used by tens of thousands of openSUSE contributors to access bugzilla, had gotten a completely useless Adobe Flash animation. It doesn’t matter if you’re a free software zealot or a pragmatic techie – useless Adobe Flash animations causing huge CPU load when you’re trying to enter bugzilla is going to piss you off. After a storm of protests the Flash animation was quickly removed, but it makes you wonder how this can happen in the first place. Even for a company that likes to position itself as “mixed source”.
In all fairness Novell do a lot of good in the free software community. Employing hundreds of developers, GPL’ing YaST2, opening up SUSE development for the outside world, sponsoring Akademy, Guadec, being corporate patrons of KDE etc. One of the latest good things that Novell did was hiring Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier as a community manager for openSUSE. Part of his job is communicating feedback from the community to Novell – it is an important task indeed.
 UPDATE: In trying to get my point across I did Ted Haeger some injustice. I knew full well that Ted Haeger is no longer with Novell. And actually I’m only aware of him “dissing” openSUSE on one occasion – and him and Erin did apologize for it on the following episode of Novell Open Audio, after having the error of their ways pointed out to them.