With SUSE Linux 11, Novell draws even closer to Microsoft

By Eric Lai, Computerworld |  Open Source, Linux, Novell

The latest version of SUSE Linux Enterprise, Novell Inc.'s commercial distribution of the open-source operating system, bears more fruit from Novell's controversial two-and-a-half-year-old interoperability alliance with Microsoft Corp.

One version of SUSE Linux Enterprise 11, what Novell likes to call SLE 11, will allow companies to run applications built with Microsoft's .Net platform to work on Linux without recompiling them. That version, called Mono Extension, even runs on IBM's System z, enabling IBM'S mainframe computers to run .Net apps.

The desktop version of SLE 11 includes Moonlight, a Firefox browser extension for Linux, and Unix operating systems that enables users to view rich media built for Microsoft's Silverlight platform. The two companies have been talking about Moonlight for several years, though the first mature release, Moonlight 1.0, was made available only in January.

SLE 11 desktop can also play Windows multimedia-formatted files and bundles the Novell version of OpenOffice.org, which supports the latest Microsoft Office 2007 Open XML document formats. SLE 11 also includes a number of back-end improvements that make it more manageable both as a physical and virtual operating system by Windows system administrators.

"We want SUSE to be the best-managed Linux under Microsoft System Center," said Justin Steinman, vice president of solution and product marketing.

When rival Red Hat Inc. signed an interoperability agreement with Microsoft in February, some took that as a sign that Red Hat was displacing Novell as its most-favored open-source vendor.

Steinman was quick to disagree. "The only thing that Red Hat and Microsoft did was to agree to participate in each other's public software validation programs. It was a lot of noise about something that is pretty basic and simple," Steinman said. "What we're doing with Microsoft remains a much broader partnership."

Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., agreed. "Red Hat and Microsoft still essentially just tolerate each other. So it's fair to say that Novell has a deeper relationship with Microsoft than Red Hat does," he said.

In the most recent figures from IDC, Red Hat had 66% of the Linux market in 2006, more than double Novell's 26% share.

The economic downturn may boost the prospects for commercial Linux -- though, how much is unsure.

Novell touts a recent IDC survey it sponsored that shows 72% of IT executives are actively evaluating or have already decided to boost adoption of Linux server this year, with 68% reporting the same for desktop Linux.

According to a revised forecast by IDC in December, Linux revenues will grow 20% a year until 2012, from $649 million last year to $1.23 billion in 2012. Its share of the worldwide operating system market by revenue will grow to a total of 3.6% in 2012.

However, Linux by 2012 will still only be the fourth most popular platform, behind Windows, Unix and mainframes, according to IDC. Sales of Windows, worth $21.6 billion last year, will grow to $27.4 billion by 2012, and hold 81% of the market, according to the research firm.

Other new features in SLE 11 include support for Citrix Systems Inc.'s Xen hypervisor, a high-availability version for clustered data centers that will be available in April, and a real-time version for time-sensitive, mission-critical apps due out later this year.

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