Attachmate reveals little about plans for SUSE

One-on-one interview confirms fates of SUSE Linux, openSUSE tied together.

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Many are wondering what will happen to SUSE Linux and openSUSE if and when Novell is acquired by Attachmate.

The word on the street is that it is likely the whole SUSE product line will get bundled up into a single entity and sold off to another company, as Attachmate carves up Novell and sells off all of the good parts.

In an effort to figure out just what's going to happen, openSUSE Community Manager Jos Poortvliet conducted an "interview" with Jeff Hawn, chairman and CEO of Attachmate that appeared earlier this week on openSUSE News.

I use quotes around interview not as an elitist media detraction on Poortvliet's article. In truth, they are good questions. The problem is, prior to the actual sale of Novell to Attachmate, there is no way someone like Hawn would ever reveal so much about their intentions for any part of Novell. And even if he did let something slip, there is no way his responses weren't sanitized by flacks at Attachmate and Novell before seeing print.

(Psst: the big hint for such a sanitation is the 746-word "Forward-Looking Statements" section at the end of the article.)

Expecting nothing, I was therefore not disappoint to find exactly that in this article. Poortvliet posed straightforward questions and got very little in the way of straight answers. Hawn's theme was that they will do whatever it takes to make SUSE a success.

Hawn did confirm, for example, that Attachmate will likely form a "SUSE business unit on par with the existing Attachmate and NetIQ business units. We believe that establishing SUSE as its own business unit will give greater focus and flexibility to grow within a competitive market."

When Poortvliet goes for the throat of the issue, the future life expectancy of SUSE Linux, and asks if Attachmate intends to immediately sell the SUSE business unit, he gets a nice dance from Hawn:

"I want to be clear here: all of our efforts will be focused on doing the things necessary to make SUSE the highest performing business with the strongest openSUSE community that we can. This is a healthy, growing dynamic business. We want to continue to nurture this business and grow it. This is why we want to elevate the SUSE brand and operate that part of the business as a distinct unit where it will receive greater visibility and focus," Hawn replied.

I realize that I am playing the role of cynical reporter here, but that's not a "no."

You can read things like "doing the things necessary to make SUSE the highest performing business" and interpret this as either a real focus of managing the business to a successful conclusion or as a pretty-it-up-and-get-it-ready-for-sale move.

I did glean one thing from this interview: openSUSE's future will be directly tied into that of SUSE Linux, no matter what happens. Hawn's statement above makes that clear when he mentions the openSUSE community in conjunction with the proposed SUSE business unit. Later, when Poortvliet asks if Attachmate plans to shut down the openSUSE Project, the answer seems direct:

"No, we don't," Hawn writes. "Attachmate intends to continue the sponsorship and collaboration with the openSUSE project. We view the openSUSE project and its extended community as an important part of the overall SUSE business and we value its contributions to the technology that forms the heart of the SUSE offerings."

All this tells me is that openSUSE and SUSE Linux will remain linked. The seemingly direct "no" unfortunately only tells me that Attachmate does not plan to kill the openSUSE Project. That's not to say someone else won't.

In truth, I don't think openSUSE is in any danger of getting the ax: it's too valuable on its own, let alone how it is so closely tied to SUSE Linux.

The openSUSE community must be asking itself if they want to stay with Attachmate or any other new corporate master. They were already showing signs of discontent with Novell earlier this year. Will new corporate leadership make things better or worse for openSUSE?

That's a question for which I would love see the answer.

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