Novell and what they bring to the party

It's almost time for another openSUSE release, and i'm sure there will be many articles written about it in the near future. openSUSE 11.1 plans to bring a whole bunch of new features to the desktop. But what about the company behind the SUSE logo? Novell get a lot of bad press, but do they really deserve it? Not that many people know about some of the projects Novell are behind, so i thought i'd give it a bit of research and find some of the forward thinking things that Novell is doing. This is just a small list of the projects that i thought to be important, any additions are welcome. Some of these are well known, but i do hope to surprise you...

  1.  Mono. "is a cross platform, open source .NET development framework". Simply put, ASP.NET, C#, and Winforms can all be run on Mac/Linux/Windows with Mono. They can also be developed ( using Monodevelop ), allowing for more people to use Linux to develop server applications and all the other stuff that people buy Windows licenses for. If i was head of a software team ( maybe one day :) and i had to do something in .NET, i'd probably opt to use Mono. Most of the Mono work has come out of the infamous Microsoft deal, but how can this project be a bad thing?
  2.  Moonlight. "is an open source implementation of Microsoft Silverlight for Unix systems". Based on Mono, Moonlight 1.0 is a Silverlight 1.0 compatible plugin, finally bringing a decent Flash competitor to the Linux desktop. Why is this a good thing, encouraging use of a Microsoft standard? Because Flash for Linux sucks. And without competition why should Adobe make it better? Silverlight is based on .NET and much better technology than Flash. I'm not a C# fan, but it's so much better than ActionScript. And since Novell have access to some of Microsoft's inner workings, Moonlight is actually really good.
  3.  Go-OO. Basically Novell's spin of Open Office. It's an attempt to take Open Office from the proprietay grip of Sun and give it to the community. Sun have a very bad history with community projects, and while they are pro open source, they don't normally give the community freedom to contribute to the projects. It goes without saying the Go-OO has better Microsoft compatibility. It also features SVG, VBA ( Visual Basic ), rich fields, and multimedia support, 3D transitions, and an optimized Calc solver. Most of these are community add-ins that Sun rejected.
  4.  Linux Driver Project. Technically it was started by GregKH, a kernel developer, who wanted to do this in his free time. Novell ( his employer ) thought it was a great idea, so they decided that he should do this as part of his job. The aim of this project is to create Linux Kernel Drivers ( under GPL v2 ) for different devices. Hardware manufacturers can contact this group, and request that a driver is made. The group is willing to sign non-disclosure agreements, as long as the final driver is GPL v2.
All of these things are of great long term benefit to the Linux platform. Whether it's just more compatibility with Microsoft or making products for Linux better, they do more than their share of work. The idea of having .NET available on Linux is fantastic, and while some people are against it, it's very much like Wine in a sense. Businesses and individuals are far more likely to adopt a Linux distro if there are more applications that they are comfortable with. I know many people who would use Linux if they could play their games, and many businesses who would if they could run their software or use their hardware, so any steps to making this happen are welcome. And what's more, is that this compatibility is free.


  1. Nice list.
    It's hard to get away from the Microsoft world, even with using Linux. Novell has done a lot to help bridge the gap and even Red Hat is now saying that they need to work on being able to work better with Microsoft.

  2. Interesting that (with the exception of #4) all you are doing is listing the very things that cause Novell to get "a lot of bad press".

    It's pointless to debate such statements as "how can this project be a bad thing?" and "Silverlight is based on .NET and much better technology than Flash", but I would like to address one point you mention in passing:

    Wine is nothing like mono/moonlight, although I can see why Novell apologists like to encourage that fallacy.

    Why not? Briefly:
    Wine isn't being financed by Microsoft (Novell is - that's at least $340 million in the last 2-3 years.)
    Wine doesn't acknowledge the legitimacy of Microsoft's patent claims against Linux (Novell does).
    Wine project does not encourage development using Microsoft tech (mono/moonlight does - that is its whole purpose in fact.)
    Wine does not push for default inclusion in distros (mono/moonlight advocates do)

    (Often you hear the fallacy drawn against Samba as well - this ComputerWord article covers why that is false, much of which applies to Wine as well.)

    One more point: if you honestly think C#/.NET/Silverlight is such great technology, then why use half-baked tools that will never have all the features of the real versions? If you think the platform is so awesome, why not really use it? Just run Windows. You are already supporting Microsoft by using their toolchain, why be coy about it?

  3. Reading the two articles mentioned above I see some interesting aspects of the deal.

    * SLSE and subscriptions for SLES support offered alongside Windows Server, Virtual Server and Viridian.
    * MS pays upfront for SLES subscriptions and does what they wish with them.
    * MS agrees to spend $12M for marketing Linux and Windows virtualizing solution
    * MS agrees to spend $34M between the deal and 2012 for a sales force devoted to marketing their combined offering.
    * MS agrees to not enter into an agreement with any other Linux distributor
    * MS agrees to pay Novell a NET (after what Novell pays MS) $348M for their patent agreement.

    Their focus is:
    # work on managing web-services on physical and virtual servers
    # making it easy to manage mixed Windows and SUSE environments (such as with Active Directory (MS), eDirectory (N), etc.)
    # bridge gap between MS Office and OpenOffice.org's formats

    The patent agreement:
    @ MS will not assert patents against SLES customers or other covered products from Novell [which, if I remember right, does NOT include Mono] and vice-verse
    @ MS will not use its patent portfolio against non-profit open-source software developers or openSUSE programmers whose code eneded up in SUSE Linux (which probably coveres those working on Mono, even if it doesn't cover Mono itself)

    Of course this only lasts until 2012. After that, then what? An Office format war begins (like the old browser wars?)? customers given an either/or option for operating systems? Even Red Hat is realizing that it needs to be a little less of an island anymore.

    There are a lot of products from Microsoft and throwing the baby out with the bath water is immature small thinking.

  4. meandubuntu... a few things.
    Their spin of Open Office shouldn't give any bad press. If you think that supporting Microsoft document formats is a bad thing, then consider this. My wife is a freelance writer who is often requested to submit documents in a .doc file. No .doc, no pay. So you rashly say, "Forget about that employer", but this is our income we're talking about. She has a bad month with little income, we struggle to pay bills. And the number of ppl who ask for .doc is huge. So i'm glad that they are doing this, because it keeps our bills paid. They are also helping the community actually contribute to Open Office because Sun won't, so it should just be 1 and 2 that are giving them bad press.
    And i honestly don't see why. They are trying to bridge a gap which is preventing Linux market share from going from 1% to 30%. Business won't use Linux unless it works with Microsoft technologies. At least here, Microsoft themselves are telling business it's ok to use Linux ( as long as its SUSE ), where previously they would say it's all rubbish.
    And you cannot deny that there are certain killer apps and services preventing companies and individuals from using Linux. I support any attempt to break down this rift. I'm far from a Microsoft fan boy, but i acknowledge that they are dominant, and you can't sway users by telling them that their way of using a computer is wrong.
    And tell me, would you rather use Adobe Flash or Silverlight? Adobe have never supported Linux decently, and honestly don't care. A platform such as one of those is needed, and those are the 2 current big ones. Building a new standard is just silly, because if its a Linux only standard, not many people will adopt it. With this in consideration, i'd much rather use some C# than ActionScript, since it is actually a programming language. I don't care that Microsoft are behind it, i support Linux because of my freedom to choose, not because i'm on some religious crusade against Microsoft. And i'd prefer to use Moonlight over Flash, now i can. Thats all it's about, in my opinion, i don't if Novell are lining their pockets over it. Thats just business, it'd happen with or without that deal.
    And about using Microsofts toolchain. I'm a game developer, whether i like it or not, i have to use Microsofts toolchain. And i can tell u that its a lot easier to work with than Apple's. I still think Visual Studio is the best IDE by a decent amount, and it makes life a lot easier. The thing is, i'm not going to say its rubbish just because it's made by Microsoft, i'm going to be fair and rational, and test it out against other equivalients. While i dislike the Windows platform, some of Microsoft's products and services are good and i would like to use good things. Again, i don't see the point of a crusade against a company, i'd rather take the good, and avoid the bad. It's all about choice for me and not some silly crusade.

  5. The point I addressed was specifically drawing an equivalence between the Wine project and the mono/moonlight projects is superficial at best.

    Never said anything about not using .doc formats. There's no need to get into that argument because Microsoft has already lost this war. Governments around the world are mandating open document formats -- and Microsoft has repeatedly been forced by courts to open its specification. It's slow going, sure, and of course Microsoft is fighting it tooth and nail, but asking "What version of Microsoft Office created this file?" will eventually be as foolish as asking "what year was the pencil and paper made that wrote down this memo?" Which is exactly as it should be. Is there something "religious" or "silly" or "immature" about pushing for open document standards, especially for government or public records?

    The rest of the points you raise are similar: things I never brought up (but you seem eager to attribute to me), and just as easily addressed. It's telling that you built up a whole army of straw men and then dismiss them as a "silly crusade".

  6. Novell caved into the pressure of Microsoft, Novell sponsors MONO. Does anyone really think Microsoft would sit back and let Novell act like this all in the spirit of "good for the Linux platform"

    Come on! Its not rocket science.

    Letting Microsoft near Linux is like putting Count Dracula in charge of a blood bank.

    "The Linux Blogazine"

  7. @anon... it's not rocket science, its business. Microsoft realise that they face a huge threat from Linux so they are doing the next logical business move, find a partner they can trust and potentially use to keep themselves in business. Microsoft have become the biggest reseller of SUSE Linux, making them a bit of profit i'm sure. Microsoft also know that they could never sue Mono, because if the case is lost, the state of software patents becomes unsure.
    @meandubuntu... sorry i didn't respond to this earlier, but u brought up MS having lost the document war. Honestly, i don't know if ODF is better. The Open Document Foundation have already dismantled citing that ODF is not a long term solution. What i feel is that the guys at Opera had a point when they said that we already have a brilliant cross platform format with a standard ( in HTML and CSS ) and we should just be using that instead. The format wars were stupid, and .doc is still the most used format. Business doesn't see a need for change, so it won't happen quickly, and hence .doc compatibility is almost as important now as it ever was.

  8. @dgoemans
    Agreed, although Novell caved in easily (im sure they are making something from the deal aswell)
    The point I was trying to make was that MS should be kept off the Linux scene at all costs. If they could be trusted (IMO) to act in the best interests of users and not themselves I wouldnt have a problem.
    Novell must be quite unhappy. I am quite sure had they not jumped into bed with Microsoft they would be in the position that Canonical is now. As it stands it seems to me that the global bad feeling against MS has secured Novell a second place (and falling)
    Looking at MS current attempts to get its software on your machine (Sun springs to mind here) MS are adopting a more parasidic method of getting onto your OS.
    What about the deal with Dell to make MSLive the default engine on their machines?
    "The Linux Blogazine"