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Novell from an openSUSE perspective

Posted in opensuse by mschlander on 13/03/2008

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[1] 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.

[1] 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.


8 Responses

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  1. Pascal Bleser said, on 13/03/2008 at 14:16

    Good post. But one thing everyone should keep in mind is that a larger company such as Novell (or Sun, or …) doesn’t speak out of a single voice. Actions and opinions are rarely representative of the mindset and will of all the employees, actually not even of all decision makers and managers of each department.

    It’s a shortcut and oversimplification we all tend and like to do, let’s be honest, even regarding Microsoft. Your remarks and criticism are good and correct, but one must always be careful not to throw everyone into the same bag.

  2. Drew said, on 13/03/2008 at 14:22

    Novell and openSuse’s relationship is very similar to the RedHat/Fedora one, the difference is how it is viewed.

    I think you have a good point here! There is no doubt that Novell has done good for Linux and Open Source but with little quips like this it has to make you wonder.

    Interlopability between SuSE and Microsoft is one of their strengths, but if Novell is diss-ing openSuse it has to make you wonder how good is it’s Enterprise version! At least the community version has non-Novell users to help keep it pushing along, but the enterprise (paid) version doesn’t have quite the same luxury!

    From an outsider’s point of view, the RedHat/Fedora connecton seems strong (there’s no doubt RedHat is involved with Fedora) but they both are running the same philosophy (as Open Source as you can be, grudgingly use non-FOSS). This synergy helps funnel people from one side to the other (enterprise users to Fedora, home users to RHEL).

    The Microsoft deal has been a hot topic in community forums and needs to be well clarified (if possible) for openSuse. Linux users very anti-MS will never agree to the Novell-Microsoft deal, but for people on the fence, that ambiguity and negative feelings from the anti-MS people may push them away from this great distro.

  3. Alex said, on 13/03/2008 at 19:56

    Indeed a very good post,

    I use linux for 4 years, and i love it, and frankly, I also started because of the anti-MS feelings, but in time i realized that it’s a bit childish and imho there is no better Office suite then the MS one (pls have mercy, I’m just trying to be honest). Luckily a programmer doesn’t need an office suite that often. As for ordinary users – integration is a big bonus, if it will spear them valuable time.

    On corporate policy; if a person speaks from the name of the company he should do it by the book, maybe there is no such book? Could that be the problem?

  4. George said, on 14/03/2008 at 0:20

    Never judge a book by its cover. As I age in this world I sometimes can never understand the actions of upper management in companies. For example, SCO and its Linux rantings, while losing but yet investors still pouring money into it. Money seems to be a factor in all of this or should I say Greed. At the time of the Novell, MS deal i noticed they needed capitol.
    Now back to Opensuse as it will go on no matter what Novell does mainly because it still has the backing of all of us. It is up to all of us to prove that Opensuse is the best and will remain the best which i know we can all do. All one has to do is look at the programs being developed that are immediately ported to Opensuse when completed or even in Beta.
    One thing we do have to admit there are areas that have proprietary code because we have no other choice if we want certain things to work mainly because of the US patent laws. Until software patents are changed we will all just mosey along doing the best we can to make Opensuse the greatest Linux distro in the world.

  5. phuonglili said, on 14/03/2008 at 2:30

    Congratulation! both of your blog, and this post are high ranked in
    “The top blogs of the day” report

  6. Ted Haeger said, on 14/03/2008 at 5:33

    Did you know that I left Novell 11 months ago? I’m not part of the “Novell marketing people” that you seem to think I am. I parted ways with Novell for the very same reasons that you cite about the MS agreement–not its evilness, but the careless disregard for the people that the company never bothered to consult (including me). So, you’re mostly spot on in your point, but I’d sure appreciate not being cited as one of the idiots who wrecklessly sullies openSUSE’s good name.

  7. Very good post. Got some insight behind openSUSE and of course about Novell 🙂

  8. ben said, on 14/03/2008 at 13:06

    NED has also taken over the iFolder project …

    I even think the’re violating the GPL!

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