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Free Software Exploitation: Novell's Poor Business Strategy

"It is in Novell's interest - selfish interest, I will admit - to advance-remove whatever those inhibitors be to the advancement of Linux and open source."

--John Dragoon, Novell



N

ovell loves free software. Free -- as in "free lunch". It receives a lot of code without paying for it. It's free labour, so what's not to like? Novell admits that it is not willing to disengage from its proprietary past [1, 2, 3, 4]. It's not prepared to say goodbye to its roots. It's planning to just mix it all up; you know, just like its business partner, Microsoft. Novell takes pride in it, too. While the following article requires a subscription to read in full, the opening paragraph is too telling.

NOVELL HAS thrived by being able to offer customers a mixture of open source and proprietary software, even though it attracted the wrath of the open source community by doing a deal with Microsoft, according to chief executive Ron Hovsepian.


It would be interesting to read the remainder of this text and absorb the main messages of this article as a whole. Nevertheless, the Web site insists on living in the 'Golden Ages' when people always paid for the news. Groklaw, in the mean time, writes about Sun and NetApp, and therein also lies an important observation.

Releasing code is not all there is to it. Ethics, fairness, honesty -- it's the FOSS culture, and it's the value add. Any company that tries to play by the old rules undercuts that advantage. It's the one thing Microsoft can't embrace, extend, extinguish. They can't even offer Brand X, because we'd all laugh. It would, in any case, take decades to live down their rep. So players in this space need to morph that part of their way of doing business also. If you don't believe me, look at Oracle's play to try to undercut Red Hat. Blech. And Red Hat is doing fine, thanks. It always will, unless it starts importing proprietary tactics into the mix. The community is made up of brainiacs, you know. They know what is happening, and there are no secrets, long-term. So I would hope that all companies wanting to make use of openness as a model will scrape the proprietary crud off of them before they enter. We want to keep things clean in here.


That is exactly why Novell became a black sheep. Add to this the possibility that Novell is just IBM's attempt to dilute the values of GNU/Linux and elevate intellectual monopolies at their expense. Novell has already admitted its selfishness and Sun appears to have acted in a similar fashion. Microsoft's talk about open source is too obviously a self-serving (for Windows) affair.

Such companies, which brought themselves up in a non-Free software environment, cannot properly reform themselves; they hardly seem willing, partly due to shareholders' expectation and analysts' targets.

Sadly enough, a forceful community project, OpenSUSE, will continues to suffer from Novell's and Microsoft's shadows. Just watch how Sam Varghese puts it:

OpenSUSE 11: nice kid, bad custodians



[...]

More good news: you can still remove Mono, the infamous attempt to clone Microsoft's .NET development environment, and all its insidious dependencies without breaking anything in OpenSUSE. I had to remove a total of 39 files, both applications and libraries, to get it off my system. Anyone who is planning long-term usage of the distribution would be well advised to remove Mono as it could lead to problems down the line.

OpenSUSE has all the applications that an average desktop user needs. It is a distribution with an excellent pedigree. If only it had better custodians.


OpenSUSE could be today's market leader in the Linux world had it not been for that blasted Microsoft deal and unnecessary affiliation with Novell. For the time being, some people who experiment with OpenSUSE just run back to Ubuntu. Here are two new examples:

1. Fun with openSUSE 11.0

I’m told that because of Novell/Microsoft ties, OpenOffice as shipped with openSUSE has more features than the stock OO.o shipped with Ubuntu. I need to investigate this further to have an opinion on the matter (although I can say right away that I don’t have an issue with the politics of this deal …).

I still have a lot of investigating to do, however, in the interim I think that if I had to choose between Ubuntu and openSUSE, Ubuntu would be the winner - familiarity is a key factor.


2. My OpenSuse 11.0 experience. OpenSuse or Ubuntu? I have made my choice.

I will make a list of the things which I didn't like about it.

1. The smoothness of ubuntu is still lacking in opensuse-11.0

2. On my Dell Latitude D600, the visual effects were not running as smooth as ubuntu.

3. I would agree that they tried to make the interface look better and more user friendly but it still doesn't come close to Ubuntu.

4. I didn't find much online support for the new release of openSuse-11.0

5. The start-up/loading time was at least 10 to 15 seconds more than Ubuntu.

6. I checked the system monitor and the programs were running slower in openSuse.


So he moved back to Ubuntu at the end. To many people, OpenSUSE just doesn't shout out "Freedom" anymore. Not with Microsoft's and Novell's presence anyway. Mind mind users; developers appear could be affected similarly. OpenSUSE would reach a broader community of developers, drive-by patche offerers and bug reporters if it became Novell-independent (it's currently just an illusion). People prefer contributing to projects, not corporations that liaise with a sworn enemy of libre software.

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