-- I once was involved in a startup company that changed its focus five or six
times before the doors ever opened. From the beginning, there was a commitment
to building a successful company and delivering to the market something that
was needed. What was missing from the start, though, was a solid clue as to
just what that something to be delivered was. Someone would propose that we
offer a particular type of product or service, and most of the others would
get all excited and jump on the bandwagon, while another would begin to point
out that this was already being done in one form or another and there was no
vacuum in the market for our offering.
Despite the fact that we kept changing what we would be doing and could not
come up with something all that unique, we plunged ahead and opened the doors.
After all, we had already leased space, bought equipment and done a host of
other things it was honestly too early to do. We did not want to put the brakes
on for fear that it might send the wrong signal.
The business was kicked off with a grand opening that included catered food,
invitations, newspaper ads and a plethora of other things. Only one person showed
up to that event, and it was the attorney we had hired to draft many of the
I could easily be 180 degrees off, but I can’t help but think of this
example when contemplating yet another set of changes to the Linux distributions
from Novell. It goes without saying that it is a lot easier for a company that
has yet to open its doors to change its focus than for a company with thousands
of employees. Despite that, it seems as if they keep trying to find their way.
When Novell bought SuSE, they kept that name for the products that already
existed in the market, but were determined to Novell-ize it for the enterprise
-- the customer they were familiar with due to their relationship with NetWare.
To that end, Novell Linux Desktop 9 came into being aimed at the desktop user
inside the corporation. The words that can be used to relate NLD to SuSE can
change with the setting but are usually: “based-on,” “built-on,”
“modified,” etc. The truth of the matter is that NLD differed from
SuSE in two key ways:
1. Novell marketed it directly to the enterprise customer and offered them
support through their technical staff. Instead of purchasing a product that
lacked all but basic support, NLD had the support behind it that enterprise
customers were accustomed to with NetWare.
2. Slight changes were made to the interface -- the lizard became a big “N”
and the Novell connection was made more readily apparent to anyone using it.
It has now, however, been announced that there will not be an anticipated NLD
10. Instead, there will be a SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 (notice the change
from “SuSE” to “SUSE”). The Novell reputation, apparently,
does not carry the weight in the Linux community that SUSE does, and thus the
product is being renamed. SLED 10 will join the other SUSE products being marketed
-- desktop versions for outside the enterprise will continue to be sold through
retail outlets and a new version of the server is coming out as well.
SUSE Linux 10 (an evolutionary move from what was SuSE Linux Professional 9.3)
is an excellent product that was reviewed
here several months ago. It updates some of the basic features that already
existed and adds a number of new features (more information can be found here).
Given that SUSE is an excellent product, there is nothing wrong, per se, with
extending the brand and using that name for the enterprise desktop. What you
have to wonder, however, is:
- Why wasn’t that done in the first place?
- Why shouldn’t all versions of SUSE desktop enjoy the same level of
The first question can be answered by referencing “badge engineering."
This term comes from the automotive world and describes the practice of changing
one model name for another on a car without making substantial changes. A particular
model of Chevrolet could be the same as a Buick with a different emblem and
a minor change to headlights; the Buick is marketed differently than the Chevrolet,
but is the same vehicle for all intents and purposes. At one point in time,
this was thought to be a great marketing tactic, but it has been overused by
General Motors so much that it is now frowned upon by many of their customers.
I don’t have an answer for the second question, but suspect that someone
will point out that it is not cost effective to support all versions of SUSE
desktop. While I don’t disagree with that, the fact that NLD/SLED is the
one that comes with support is surprising since it is the one often discounted
the deepest. Linux Central lists the home version (no real support) of SUSE
Linux for $57.95, while the State of Indiana is purchasing the enterprise product
(under the Indiana ACCESS initiative) with an allotment of $13 per computer
-- and this amount is intended to cover all software on each machine, including
the operating system.
Issues such as this make it relatively easy to look at Novell and question
what they are doing. It would be unfair and grievous, however, to only look
at such problems and dismiss their products. The truth of the matter is that
Novell is, despite the stumbles, one of the main companies currently at the
forefront of Linux development.
Novell AppArmor continues to be a secret when it should be something that everyone
working with security is shouting about. It essentially allows you to create
a firewall around any application and protect it (allocating resources based
on the program and not the user). Not only are you protecting the application
from being deleted or altered, but -- if done properly -- you are also protecting
it from being run with known backdoors, weaknesses, exploits, etc. By being
fully integrated with the existing infrastructure, the overhead for AppArmor
is very low and the steps to creating a policy are remarkably simple. This should
be something that every Linux administrator is learning more about.
The desktop versions of Linux from Novell continue to include the latest kernel
(2.6.16, as of this writing) and all the enhancements and software packages
that can be bundled together. A custom version of OpenOffice.org 2.0 will be
included with SLED as well as enhanced support for plug-n-play and enhanced
graphics. A complete list of the features in SUSE Linux releases can be found
Coupling the feature set of SUSE with the continual development of new offerings,
it is clear that Novell is committed to producing the best Linux distribution
it can. It would be nice -- and undoubtedly appreciated by the market, however
-- if they would select one strategy and pledge to stick to it without further
changes in course.