Novell's Microsoft dealmaker chides Red Hat

Only open source code will result despite unique pact

The Novell executive who architected an historic technology and intellectual property agreement with Microsoft has scolded rival Red Hat for not being innovative and warned Oracle's Linux play will fragment the company's operating system.

In Australia to visit customers, Novell director of product marketing, Linux, and open platform solutions Justin Steinman said Red Hat's latest release, Enterprise Linux 5, is decidedly similar to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10 released last year.

"They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," Steinman said. "The Red Hat desktop looks a lot like the SUSE desktop [so] where is Red Hat's contribution to desktop software? Look at the Red Hat desktop and there's not a lot of new stuff there."

Steinman cited Novell's development of the OpenGL-accelerated 3D desktop effects software Compiz as an example of its commitment to innovation.

On the server, Steinman said Novell is the only vendor to offer virtualization of Linux, Windows 2000, XP, and 2003, with support for the pending "Longhorn" server release coming soon.

"Red Hat just supports Red Hat on Red Hat," he said. "We are taking deals away from Red Hat, like at financial services firm Bear Sterns."

Regarding Oracle's decision to support its own Unbreakable Linux based on Red Hat's code base, Steinman said Oracle is optimizing its distribution for running Oracle.

"If you are a 100 percent Oracle shop Unbreakable Linux may make sense but if you are heterogeneous it does not," he said. "This will fork Red Hat's distribution."

Novell's next update to its SUSE Linux line will come in the form of a service pack, which Steinman said is due in a matter of days, and will include security updates and feature enhancements.

When asked if naming an update a "service pack" is ominously similar to one issued by Microsoft, particularly in light of the deal between the two companies, Steinman laughed and said existing customers already get updates but some like to update systems less frequently.

"We've also taken the opportunity to add new features like Xen 3.0.4, and Xen on the desktop, and updated the desktop menu based on user feedback," he said. "We're in conversations with HP, Dell, and Lenovo and they are all eager to do a desktop pre-load. The only question is who is going to move first."

Steinman said the same goes for the new thin client release, which is also set to be distributed by the device manufacturers like Wyse.

"ISV recruitment is a top priority at Novell now and if the desktop is to be successful it must have applications," he said. "The Linux desktop is ready for 80 percent of corporate environments [so] we need to get the other 20 percent over onto a Linux desktop. For example, we are working with IBM to improve the Lotus Notes experience on SLED."

With some 300 engineers working full time on open source code, Novell's charter is to bridge the gap between what is already available and the functionality customers are missing.

"VB macro support for OpenOffice.org is a perfect example," Steinman said. "We couldn't have a real conversation with a customer if we didn't have this."

On the controversial technology and IP agreement with Microsoft, Steinman talked up the customer support benefits it has delivered, saying if a SUSE Linux customer requires support for a virtualised Windows Server, Microsoft will in turn call Novell to resolve the problem.

"Microsoft can sue anyone, it can sue Novell," he said. "If you are a customer and you deploy SUSE Linux they won't sue you. Microsoft believes there are patent agreements inside Linux, Novell believes there are not."

This has been a contentious issue among the open source community, including Red Hat, which believes there shouldn't be a "tax" applied to interoperability, which is driven by open standards

"Do you want to implement the Linux that works with Windows or the one that doesn't?" Steinman said. "We agree with Red Hat in that everything should be standards based but when you do virtualization there are two parts - drivers in the operating system and the hypervisor."

"We are collaborating with Microsoft so that Windows on SUSE runs at the same performance as Linux on Linux. The adaptor will be 100 percent open source. Microsoft will not open source the Windows code. When you run SUSE on Windows we will put drivers in Linux to make sure it runs well and that will also be open source. Any code that Novell touches as part of this agreement will be open source."

Steinman said Novell's Linux business grew 659 percent in first quarter of 2007, which included $91 million in invoices.

More about DellHewlett-Packard AustraliaHPIBM AustraliaLenovoLinuxMicrosoftNovellOpenOfficeOracleRed HatSuseWyse

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