SUSE hits the big 2-0

SUSE Linux thrives through two acquisitions, Microsoft, and one weird lizard

While Linux itself celebrated its twentieth anniversary in high style last year, 2012 will be the year of the lizard, as SUSE Linux steps up to celebrate two decades as the world's oldest commercial Linux entity.

The company has announced it "will showcase major historical milestones throughout the year and discuss plans for the future at a series of events throughout the world that will include SUSECon 2012, the premier event for SUSE customers, partners and enthusiasts," according to a press release out today.

But this relatively long existence almost didn't come to pass, as what began as S.u.S.E. GmbH in 1992 has undergone two major takeovers, a partnership with Microsoft that led to near-revolt in the Linux community, and a heretofore-unknown consideration by Red Hat to purchase the German Linux company just prior to the turn of the century.

According to Kerry Kim, who is now Director of Solution Marketing at SUSE Linux, then-SuSE Linux AG approached Red Hat to possibly acquire SuSE around the 1999-2000 time period. The price wasn't right for Red Hat, according to Kim, who was actually working for Red Hat at the time. Instead, Red Hat picked up Cygnus Solutions around that time, and SuSE would later be acquired by Novell in 2004.

The Novell acquisition was the first of two takeovers of the company, and one that helped propel SuSE--and Linux in general--into the enterprise as a serious contender as an operating system. Naturally, Red Hat and other players also had a role in this promotion within the enterprise, but Novell seemed to lend the company a bit of cache and respectability, given the provence of Novell and it's own long standing in the IT sector.

Of course, the Novell ownership wasn't all roses and sunshine. The 2006 decision to partner with Microsoft and introduce SuSE Linux Enterprise Server into heterogenous environments made perfect sense on paper, but would send shock waves through the broader Linux community. The patent cross-license Microsoft would bestow on Novell's SuSE Linux customers was particularly offensive to many, since to date Microsoft has never offered one bit of evidence to prove any part of Linux infringes on one of their patents.

This patent promise would lead to the addition of a patent-protection clause within the new GNU General Public License (v3) by extending any such cross-licensing deals to any user of GPLv3 software and cause much controversy about the nature of GPLv3 itself.

As the old Jedi adage goes, there's always a bigger fish, and 2011 would mark another big change for Novell and its SuSE Linux division: the acquisition of Novell by Attachmate. This purchase led to all sorts of scary speculation, but ultimately the acquisition seems to have been a good thing for new Attachmate division SUSE Linux.

Kim seemed genuinely pleased with the sense of independence the SUSE Linux team has felt from Attachmate, which is intent on letting the company do what it does best, make money making Linux and other services.

"When we were within Novell, we were sometimes pursuing other projects that were in directions that we might not otherwise have wanted to go," Kim said.

Thus far, Attachmate's approach seems to be working. While SUSE Linux is now part of a private company that no longer has to post earnings, Kim did share that the most fiscal quarter was one of the most successful the company has ever seen.

There was just a touch of Microsoft in my conversation with Kim. He attributed some of SUSE's success to the strengths of its partnerships and its capability to perform well in heterogenous environments. So, you know that was a little shout out to Redmond. But, like it or not, there's no denying that the Microsoft partnership brought quite a bit of business Novell's and SUSE Linux' way.

There are other keys to SUSE Linux' success… my personal favorite is SUSE Studio, the appliance/deployment configuration tool that is a serious jewel in SUSE's crown and an excellent differentiator for the company.

Kim attributes the development of Studio to SUSE's status as the second-place runner in the commercial Linux ecosystem. By working with so many companies and customers and working so hard to get their business, SUSE engineers came up with the automated scripts and configuration schemes that would later evolve into Studio.

"Sometimes it's not about planning, sometimes it's just luck," Kim said.

To highlight making it for two decades, for the first time, SUSE is about to launch its first autonomous conference, SUSECon. The conference will be held in September, the anniversary month for SUSE, specifically September 18-21 at the Caribe Royale Hotel in Orlando, Florida. Registration for the conference should be opened in April.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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