Meet the parents
Novell and IBM are investing serious money in Linux, giving it mainstream sparkle.Chris Keall | Monday, November 29 2004
Linux continues to look spiffier and spiffier. That’s good news whether you’re ready to embrace the penguin, or just like Microsoft getting a little motivation to improve its own software (and pricing: a student-priced copy of Office with no student ID required? Some resellers are saying roll up).
Take a look at the screenshot of Novell’s Suse Linux Professional 9.2 below. It looks like a Windows desktop, down to the Start button, flowing menus and, for office diddlers, customisable wallpaper. As soon as it installs, Suse is ready for business. The OS comes with the Microsoft Office-compatible OpenOffice 1.1.3, capable photo and image editor GIMP 2, a media player for your videos and MP3s, WINE for running regular Windows apps under emulation (which has become a lot snappier) and, for when you tire of diddling with the wallpaper, Solitaire — Bill Gates’ gift to office productivity. You also get practical extras that show penguinheads are no longer nerdlingers but hip to breaking tech: support for next-gen desktop chips such as AMD’s Athlon 64, and Bluetooth support for synching your PDA or smart phone with your Linux desktop.
You will have to buy the Professional edition of Suse 9.2, due in January for around $160, to get the full range of features, plus discs and manuals. Unlike with Red Hat, Suse will also maintain its freebie version despite its new corporate parent.
Linux’s extra gloss in 2004 is due in large part to the deep pockets of IBM, which bundles Red Hat and Suse Linux with many of its products, and the less monied but sharp Novell, which bought Suse (say “sues-ah”) last year. Also there is Ximian Software, a high-brow member of the Linux family that makes systems management software.
IBM has poured, by estimates, more than $2 billion into Linux development, as well as investing around $70 million in Novell around the time of its Suse purchase.
Naturally, Novell and IBM have buffed the Suse and Red Hat Linux distributions, making them more user-friendly and business savvy. But their impact has also been felt in the wider Linux community through IBM and Novell (and others like HP and Sun) bankrolling independent open source projects. Goodies like the OpenOffice suite, as well as raft penguin-puts-on-a-suit Linux software for corporates. It’s almost all free, but IBM, Novell and others see it fuelling demand for their Linux server software, which you do have pay for, as well as services and high-end hardware. For more Linux projects, see page 105.
The likes of IBM, HP and Novell all have staff on the ground in New Zealand, too, which helps counter one of Microsoft’s key anti-penguin arguments: that there’s limited support for Linux. However Gates and Ballmer still assert that changeover and staff training costs will mitigate any savings, too.
Novell offers a legal perk, as well, through an option for corporate users that amounts to indemnity insurance against SCO’s much hated, Microsoft-bankrolled Linux copyright suit (Novell’s New Zealand country manager, Matt Christie, says the suit hasn’t really been an issue with large organisations here). IBM is not making a similar offer at this point.
Novell, was, of course, pasted by Microsoft in the PC networking war, but has made a solid comeback with its ZenWorks network management software. ZenWorks spans everything from complex administrative stuff like identity management to dozens of nifty little apps like iFolder, a drag-and-drop app for synching files you work on in the office and at home. Whether you want to manage a printer remotely or manage your email and calendaring via a personalised website, it’s all there.
With its coming Suse Enterprise Server 9.2 (due January but already getting good advance notices from the likes of Infoworld), Novell is looking to weld ZenWorks to a powerful Linux package that will offer everything a business needs to live without Microsoft, including an Exchange clone. Steve Ballmer called it socialism, but at somewhere between $100 and $200 a seat for Novell, Suse’s server and desktop smell a lot like a capitalist insurgency.
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