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More on Novell's Mixed-Source Model

Recently, it was declared that Novell is a mixed-source company, which really shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone familiar with their current product line. The fact that Novell seems to be retreating from their march towards an open-source stack is disappointing, however.

At the CITI forum, Novell South Africa Country Manager Stafford Masie shared his insight in contrasting the philosophies of Red Hat and Novell, or as he put it, "end to end open source" versus a "hybrid stack":

We believe today alot of the open source technology has not caught up yet to enterprise customers’ needs in the security domain, management domain. Where Linux is open source, specifically Linux is completely applicable is the platform, the desktop, office productivity suite, the database, etc so there’s kinda 5 major areas where its good enough if not better than whats out there, ok? where its not there yet, Novell has proprietary technology and partners that provide 3rd party technologies to that proprietary technologies where we wrap our technologies around this Linux technology. so, like zenworks management, our zenworks management suite is a proprietary piece of technology.

During the question and answer session at the CITI forum, Masie also spoke regarding the differing "streams" of open source that Novell has as well, differentiating between Novell's OSS and FOSS product lines, in his mind. Masie also goes to great lengths to enumerate the additional proprietary features and improvements in Novell's version of OpenOffice.org:

but yeah- that interoperability is absolutely crucial, and one of the things that we do get slapped over the wrist with continuously is that... its the OSS debate vs the FOSS debate... Y'know, we've got two streams of our technology as Novell, we've got the FOSS stream and then we've got the OSS stream.

OpenSUSE is really the FOSS stream, we've got derivatives of every one of our Linux technologies that you can download for free, gain the source code to, participate in the community, etc but then we do certain things with those derivatives and that innovation that locks it down, makes it more interoperable, that goes through testing, quality assurance, regression testing, backwards compatibility, all that 'stuff' with the hardware partners and then we split out a version of it that is 'enterprise ready',

Now what we mean by enterprise ready is the following: that its backwards compatible so you can deploy it in a hybrid environment so different versions will work with each other, its going to work well with other operating systems, so theres some interoperability, its going to work well on that hardware, but most importantly we put things in that distribution that you as enterprise customers want.

You know what we do, we license fonts. Y'know, you can go to... there's several font sites, I could actually go to the sites now, where you license fonts, those true-type fonts, etc. you need to license those fonts because Microsoft does the exact same thing with Office, we license that into OpenOffice - our distribution of it, our derivative of it. So, that's something proprietary.

Graphic rendering engines, there are certain ways things get rendered in Powerpoint documents, we take some of those graphic rendering engines and embed it into ours, because if a little animation does something silly in Powerpoint, we want it.to do that something silly in OpenOffice in exactly the same way.

Then there's third party tools like Adobe- Adobe Reader, Real Player, Macromedia's media little player, those things are proprietary, but you want them in your distribution, why? because when that user wants to open that Powerpoint file, play that animation, click on the link let the realplayer file play, go to a website and watch that flash show properly... you want all of those little pieces in there.

Now, for some customers that feel that's not important, well y'know, we've got the OpenSUSE derivatives of it, but that's what we do with Linux. We don't just embed things, we do add things that we believe give it more robustness but it doesnt infringe on the GPL, doesn't infringe on any patents, etc So yeah, I think the interoperability issue from that perspective is key for enterprise customers.

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