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...Home ... Editorial ... Columns ..Column Story Wednesday: April 16, 2014

 Inside the Kernel  
Emmett      Dulaney
Emmett Dulaney

  •  Novellís "Newest" Linux Desktop Move
    The company's lack of a coherent Linux strategy is hurting its products -- and the community.
    by Emmett Dulaney  
    5/10/2006 -- 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 business papers.

    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:

    1. Why wasn’t that done in the first place?
    2. Why shouldn’t all versions of SUSE desktop enjoy the same level of support?

    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 here.

    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.

    Emmett Dulaney is the author of several books on Linux, Unix and certification. He can be reached at eadulaney@anderson.edu.


    More articles by Emmett Dulaney:
  • Security+, Now with Performance-Based Questions
  • CompTIA Continuing-Ed Deadline Nears
  • Year-End Study Guide Roundup
  • Microsoft To Retire Plethora of Exams in July

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    There are 24 CertCities.com user Comments for “Novellís "Newest" Linux Desktop Move”
    Page 1 of 3
    5/11/06: Pascal Bleser from Belgium says:Sorry, but I really don't see where the problem is. First off, you start your story with "The company's lack of a coherent Linux strategy is hurting its products -- and the community" and in the end, it comes down to: 1) Novell rebrands NLD to SLED 2) Novell does not provide support for SUSE Linux although SLED is sometimes cheaper to acquire 3) AppArmor is a "secret project" About (1): well, why not, I agree the "NLD" brand was a mistake in the first place. They noticed, and they changed it, also to make it less confusing (SUSE Linux, SuSE Linux OSS, SLES, NLD, OES) and have the whole Linux product line carry the "SUSE" name. I, for myself, welcome that. It's not just rebranding: while NLD is based on "CODE 9" (i.e. SUSE Linux 9.1), SLED is based on "CODE 10" (SUSE Linux 10.1) (as is SLES 10). About (2): you didn't mention that SUSE Linux can also be downloaded for free from the Internet (or even installed online), without having to purchase the retail box. You expect them to provide the same level of support for a product that can only be acquired for a fee (NLD/SLED) and for a distribution that can be freely downloaded from the Internet for 0 bucks ? Realistically, I don't think that's feasible ;) And actually, 30 days installation support is provided for SUSE Linux, as well as 2 years of online updates (security fixes, major bugfixes). About (3): AppArmor has only recently been released as GPL (happened a couple of weeks before FOSDEM, in February, where Crispin Cowan had a nice talk about it [1]), and the AppArmor team actively searchs for and welcomes cooperation with other distributions and developers. Not sure whether Redhat (and Fedora, as it is steered by Redhat) will consider using AppArmor instead of SELinux, given that Redhat always have to do it their own way, regardless of what others are doing. But, again, I can't follow your criticism about AppArmor's current state of integration in other distributions, just give it some time to happen. [1] http://ftp.belnet.be/mirrors/FOSDEM/FOSDEM2006-apparmor.avi Why is that hurting Novell's products ? And how on earth could it be hurting the community ? (BTW, I don't work for Novell, but I'm an active member of the openSUSE community)
    5/11/06: maine johnson says:Gnome is the best thing that happened to SUSE!
    5/11/06: Clive Bearman from Waltham MA says:As the marketing manager responsible for Linux and AppArmor at Novell the answers are simple. 1. After doing extensive research with press, customers and analysts the unanimous advice was to stay with the SUSE brands. It's never easy to change names, but we decided to align ALL of the names for the new release of the platform in the summer. So for the community we have the "openSUSE project" that produces the "SUSE Linux" distro. For business there's the SUSE Linux Enterprise platform. It consists primarilty of "SUSE Linux Enterprise Server" and "SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop". The platform also has companion products such as identity, resource and access management. And a patch and update support via the Novell Customer Center. 2. The SUSE Linux 10 isn't a desktop distro. It's a snapshot of the openSUSE project, so it contains alot of general stuff. It's released every six months and because it contains previews of new open source projects it's suitable for the Linux enthusiast. And as you've correctly noted, it's largely "unsupported"... Why? see below. SUSE/Novell applies significant engineering resources to help the openSUSE community projects mature. Once mature, the projects migrate to the enterprise products. (A recent example of this is Xen virtualization. It's been in the SUSE Linux stream since 9.3, but it wasn't really suitable for the enterprise until the SUSE Linux 10.1 stream). Once the projects migrate to the enterprise distro we thn performs hardware and software cetification for our ISV's and IHV's like IBM, HP and Dell. We can then gurantee a high level of support for EVERY project included in the distro. Finally we gurantee support for the Enterprise distros and teh applications contianed therin for a full seven years form the date of first release. So you see you just can't apply that type of quality process for a community distro that changes every six months (sometimes daily). And because we can't apply as much qa we dont offer support. (If we did it would be like encouraging the community to run beta projects in production. And no one benefits there.) Incidentally NOT all community projects make it to the enterprise distros either. So desktop is differnet thn server. And they are both different from the the enthusiast version SUSE Linux. 3. I can't comment on EXACT pricing, but I'd like to say personally disagree with your conclusion as to why individuals might be charged more than someonelike the State of Indiana. At first you may think the State would generate more support calls and therefore should be charged more. But you overlook the fact that many large customers have thier own support staff who triage most issues before they get to Novell. Also businesses use the enterprise distros which are of a higher quality as mentioned above. 3. As for "stick with a strategy" I couldn't disagree with you more avidly. We've only changed the name of desktop. There's no wavering on "strategy". Our business is producing and supporting the best server and desktop enterprise distros. Simple as that. We're committed to open source and we're continuing to innovate on both the desktop and server. You only have to look at SLED 10, with XGL. SLES 10 with Xen virtulization. 4. I do agree with you about AppArmor. It's a fantastic alternative to SELinx. It's easy to use, fast and practical. Who wouldn't use it? In fact since it's been open sourced AppArmor has been ported by the community to Slackware, Ubuntu and I think there a Fedora port in the works. You'll hear much more about AppArmor as we move closer to the summer launch of SUSE Linux Enteprise 10 in the summer. Finally if you really want to know what's going to be in the enterpise 10 products then go here (http://www.novell.com/linux/pdf/introducing_suselinuxenterprise10.pdf) - rather than your community link. And the Novell Linux homepage (http://www.novell.com/linux/) Hope that helps clear up the strategy ;-)
    6/21/06: Anonymous says:Honestly who cares about Novell? Its products, its certifications and its marketing are all second class. Novell should focus its attention on getting acquired by a larger corporation. That would be the best strategy as perhaps a bigger company like IBM could strip out the good technologies and dump the rest.
    7/7/06: chad from manila says:its good
    9/4/06: may10 from philippines says:They are trying their best though. It's quite a jungle out there. REally hard to penetrate in the market when competitors are just around. "Sometimes we win some and sometimes we lose some". http://www.xrphiladelphiar.com
    10/12/06: Novlr4life says:The world is finally getting fed up about the lousy Microsoft patches and viruses and are looking for an alternative OS. Novell has the oppertunity to be "reborn again". Get it right this time, so we can take back the world !!!
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