openSUSE: Not For Sale Today

Rumor: Canonical wants to buy openSUSE. Not likely.

There's a rumor running around that Canonical, for reasons that I have yet to fathom, is supposedly interested in buying openSUSE, the community distribution project that is currently maintained and staffed by Novell.

Now, it's important right from the get-go to understand that the primary source of this rumor is Roy Schestowitz, blogger-manager of TechRights.org--a site that until recently was known as Boycott Novell.

I think it's safe to say that Schestowitz has negative bias when it comes to reporting about Novell and openSUSE. Boycott Novell was started as a protest site after Novell's sales and marketing agreement with Microsoft was announced--the same deal that infamously included patent protection from Microsoft for Novell customers. Schestowitz has not been shy about his contempt for Novell, and has even come after me as a Novell sympathizer.

So, is this just something Schestowitz made up? Actually, I don't think so. I have a feeling there's a tiny grain of truth to this. But it's not Canonical buying openSUSE.

It makes very little sense for Novell to sell openSUSE to anyone, let alone Canonical. openSUSE is the community-based platform for SUSE Linux, so Novell needs openSUSE if only to feed new code into the SUSE beast. And the definition of ownership when it comes to Novell and openSUSE is a bit loose: openSUSE operates as a project within Novell, so Novell owns the copyrights and the pay the top-level staff. But openSUSE is still comprised of open source code, so if someone wanted to buy openSUSE, all they'd really be getting for their money is some new employees and that green lizard. If you want the openSUSE code, just go download it for free.

But what if there were something else Novell had that Canonical (or another Linux buyer) might want? I have argued that since Novell is on the selling block, a buyer might come in, pull out the real value of Novell, and either sell that value off or keep it and sell off the rest.

At first, I thought about the openSUSE Build Service, which enables developers to build software packages for openSUSE and--despite the name--a variety of other distributions, including Red Hat, Debian, Mandriva, and Ubuntu. This kind of a cross-platform packaging system is something that would be very useful for Canonical to have--if it weren't already compatible with Ubuntu already and completely available under the GPL.

No, if Canonical wanted this, they would have pulled the code and made their own rebranded version already.

Then I thought about SUSE Studio, the appliance-building project available from Novell. That has more potential to being of interest to a company like Canonical. Parts of SUSE Studio, such as the KIWI tool it's based on, are free, but I don't think all of SUSE Studio is open. Buying this tool would be a better fit for Canonical's cloud aspirations. It's possible that Schestowitz's source might have been referring to this, as opposed to openSUSE.

But I'm a bit doubtful. SUSE Studio is just getting off the ground, and Novell can use a good appliance and virtual machine builder for its customer base, too. A buyer would have to heavily incentivize Novell to get them to sell this, I think.

I believe that the source of rumors like this is a general feeling within the openSUSE community that there needs to be more independence from the Novell higher-ups. openSUSE team leaders, with whom I have spoken in the past, don't bear huge ill will towards Novell, though there are the occasional comments that hint at some frustration at the suits in Massachusetts. Lately we have seen this marked in positive ways, with more initiatives to govern openSUSE more independently.

Perhaps some Canonical developer caught wind of this mood and made a crack about his or her company should just buy openSUSE and spare them the grief of dealing with Novell.

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