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Novell vs. Red Hat: Linux vs. Linux

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If you think about where Linux is fighting for market and mind-share, chances are you're thinking about Linux slugging it out with Microsoft Windows or Sun Solaris on the server, or trying to tear desktop customers away from Windows, and to a far lesser extent, from Mac OS X. That's all true, but there's also fierce competition between Linux distributions.

Some of that conflict is inside baseball stuff. Some Debian developers, for example, are jealous of Ubuntu's popularity and some developers feel that Ubuntu hasn't done enough for Linux. Unless you're a Linux insider this kind of stuff isn't going to matter to you.

What is going to matter to everyone who buys and deploys operating systems is that Novell is heating up its competition with the number one Linux distributor: Red Hat. On November 11th, Novell announced a new subscription and support program "designed to aid customers making the transition from their existing third-party Linux distribution to SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server)." What makes this interesting is that the three-year SLES subscription under this plan also includes two years of technical support for a customer's existing Linux deployments while they make the SLES transition.

That's new.


Today I want to wonder aloud why all these big tough tech companies have Red Hat in their cross-hairs? Oracle, Microsoft, and now Novell all seemed determined to crush Red Hat like a bug. And yet Red Hat, despite being the largest and most successful pure Free/Open Source company, is tiny by comparison. Revenues for their last fiscal year, which ended in February, were about $523 million, with a net of $76 million. Which is a lot by my standards, but compared to the other three is small. Oracle and Microsoft are both multi-billion dollar companies, and Novell came close to cracking the billion-dollar mark in their 2007 fiscal year.

So one might suppose that a big company looking to grow bigger would seek out new, potentially bigger markets, rather than poaching from smaller markets. But that is not the case here-- what's so special about Red Hat that these titans of industry have irresistible urges to squash it out of existence?

Chickens Pecking Red Hat

Novell bid to cannibalise Linux market Novell is getting increasingly desperate for sales. One can come to no other conclusion on reading the latest offer from the company which once dominated the world of PC networking.

In short, it is going to try and cannibalise the tiny GNU/Linux market - try and pull customers using Red Hat and CentOS over to using SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

Good luck, gentlemen, you're going to need it. I could send a rabbit's foot over as well, if you like.

CentOS is a distribution which can best be described as "Red Hat minus the trademarks."

In effect, this itself shows a weakness in Novell's sales strategy - the company cannot, on its own, identify likely GNU/Linux users. It cannot convince people to switch. Red Hat has to do the hard work and then Novell tries to sneak its way in.

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it's perfectly legitimate to compete

...even in the open-source world.

Red Hat has the cake, Oracle tries to take it away, Novell tries to take it away, and so do Mandriva and Canonical...

OK, so you don't particularly like this competitor - but that isn't reason enough to call competing with Red Hat, when Novell does it, 'cannibalising' or 'taking away', like Red Hat's ownership of the biggest piece of the market was somehow 'legitimate'.

What do you call it when Canonical does it?

Mandriva's Adam Williamson calls Canonicals way of competing 'divebombing' and 'destructive to the ecosystem of Linux vendors'.

That's, preposterous, too. It is simply weakness and bad style when someone goes sour over competition within the Linux-camp. This is what I'd say to everyone who does: Get over it.

It's Business

It's nothing more than business, but an interesting point I noticed was his observation

"There is one area, where Novell does do a better job than Red Hat. Novell refers to it cautiously as "mixed platforms," "proprietary software," and "superb interoperability in mixed-source environments." What they're really talking about is that, thanks to Novell's Microsoft partnership, Novell SLES does a better job of working in tandem with Windows Server 2003, 2008 and related server/network services like AD (Active Directory)."

That shows the difference between Red Hat's and Novell's overall philosophy and that may give Novell an edge more than the MS-Novell deal detracted.

On the other hand I think Red Hat is a smart company and I would not underestimate them or write them off too quickly.

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