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Accused as Being Proprietary?

Regarding the 50 SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 activations that I recently blogged, there was a subsequent slashdot thread in which several people have sneeringly commented that SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 proprietary. This chaffes me because Novell is part way through a cultural change that I think is nothing short of astounding. Because of open source, the company is becoming a foundary of invention again. We’re finally starting to be recognized again as a place that can really drive new software technology.

So, if you have somehow ended up here having passed through the slashdot firebranding, I ask you to consider some details about SLED, SUSE, and Novell.

  1. SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop was developed in open source.
    It includes a couple pieces of proprietary software from partner companies, such as the Macromedia Flash plugin for Firefox, RealPlayer, and Adobe Reader. It includes no proprietary kernel modules. Andreas Jaeger recently posted about SUSE’s policy on use of proprietary software and kernel modules. On the SLED10 media, Novell includes a couple proprietary packages developed at Novell, but they do not install by default, as they are all related to using enterprise infrastructural services (such as already-deployed Novell enterprise systems).
  2. Free Software, but Not Free Updates
    SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop is fully functional free software. It does not require any kind of license key. However, Novell hopes to make revenue on the software update service, as well as enterprise support, consulting, training, and other services. The activation keys activate the update service for one year. (Clever winners of the 50 1-year activations that we are giving away might extend that a bit by using the 60 day eval before they use their activation code.)
  3. Free Updates? Yes, for openSUSE.
    Novell also underwrites another desktop distribution openSUSE, which includes a lot more packages than SLED. Anyone can download it and use it. However, SLED today has some features that were (thankfully) not included in openSUSE 10.1, the current version. (In fact, we had a major screw up with a including a not-ready component in openSUSE, causing a mess that we are still trying to clean up in the SUSE community.) The feature delta with SLED, as well as the extensive extra polishing that SLED received before shipping–have prompted many people in the community to expressed their desire to use SLED. They like what Novell has created and packaged–an amazingly well-assembled desktop system, and they would rather not wait for many of the features and design elements to appear in openSUSE 10.2.
  4. Novell Contributes…a Lot
    Please give Novell some credit for driving many of the great Linux features that have shown up not only on SUSE Linux, but many other distributions. Novell hired David Reveman to complete his work on Xgl & Compiz, which are now available on Ubuntu, Gentoo and other distros. Novell hired Aaron Bockover to create Banshee on the Helix framework so that we could have legal mp3 on Linux. Novell bought Ximian and continues to enable them to create things like the new main menu for GNOME (Jimmy Krehl’s “slab”), and solid desktop search well ahead of Microsoft Vista (which still may not ship with that feature). A major reason why plug and play devices like USB drives, mp3 players and cameras just work today is Robert Love’s project Utopia. SUSE engineers today are pushing upstream Linux kernel code that has been and still is greatly extending battery life. Maybe these examples are still too self-interested? Novell employees a teams to contribute to GCC, which is an upstream contribution the GNU toolchain and yields little competitive advantage to Novell. Novell CTO Jeff Jaffe has stated the reason: you can’t just take, you gotta give back. That’s why Novell is participating and contributing.

Say what you want about our marketing missing the mark. But if you believe that we are too proprietary, or that we are not actively engaged enough in open source, then tell us why you think so. Helpus to understand that thing that you think we just don’t get. Otherwise, is it really justified to berate Novell for being proprietary just because we have offered 50 update activation keys on an awareness campaign?

16 Responses

  1. Sucks being a misunderstood software company, doesn’t it?

  2. Ted,
    A good post, but please .. dont feed the /. trolls. Since Mr Roses site came online the trolls have been slowly dying out, due mostly to the lack of attention and any vaguely combustible remarks.

  3. If we compare Novell and Ubuntu, Novell contributes a lot more code as Free software. Novell also open-sourced the SUSE distribution (when YaST had a proprietary license it wasn’t a Free distribution) and paid good money on patents so that we could have Mono under the OIN.

    So how come those same people at /. don’t point a finger at Ubuntu, which ships proprietary software too (even worse, they ignore the kernel license by distributing non-free modules), but claim Novell is proprietary or unfriendly to free software?

    Well, I think it’s the free as in beer thing. I can install Ubuntu on a friend’s computer to help spread the “Linux Desktop” that Novell’s been talking about since SLED10 was announced, and even if it might break Xorg the security updates are free. If I want to go with SLED 10 instead of Ubuntu (and trust me, I *do*) that person will look funny at me when I tell them to pay $50/year for security updates. That’s a very reasanable price for an enterprise, but it’s $50/year more than what people want to pay for a GNU/Linux distribution for personal use.

    So why not SUSE Linux 10.1, you say? You answered that in your post. It’s not polished for the average Joe (SLED 10 set a high standard on that ;). It’s also not stable enough for someone who isn’t an enthusiast, and I’m pretty sure Novell is well aware of that.

    Ubuntu might not be these things yet; it’s not really polished enough, and like I hinted before, with the Xorg update, it’s not really enterprise ready. But they are working on distributing a free as in beer system not just for enthusiasts, but for enterprises and everyone else. I think they communicated that goal well, and people other than Debian developers don’t seem to hate them so much.

    I talked a lot about Ubuntu, but I didn’t mention Red Hat. Like Novell, they charge for security updates, but thanks to CentOS people can pretty much ignore that fact. I wonder if a SentOS (SUSE CentOS 🙂 would change things at all?

    (btw, here in Brazil Novell doesn’t even sell SLED for end users, only companies. I really wish both Novell and Red Hat would realize that not just enterprises, but end users as well want a stable desktop and server OS like RHEL and SLED).

  4. You are thefts and nothing else. You steal the good ideas from others and missuse the cool guys from SUSE to put up all the stuff! You even missuse the power of the SUSE guys to hand out crap like libzypp to the customers and call it “tech. invention”. You are liars and traitors and have no clue of open source!
    This is not just a rant – if you don’t believe me dare to visit me!

  5. To skim through these, Ted:
    (1) The source is basically all there (not as open as RHEL, but better than it was), but the process is not meaningfully open, so you’ll never get the benefit of the doubt. Compare how Fedora, OpenSUSE, or Ubuntu are developed with SLED’s testing and development. As Simon said so well at GUADEC, source by itself is not enough for openness.
    (2) You can hardly blame people for saying ‘I won’t pay for this’ 🙂 I don’t *think* anyone is saying ‘you shouldn’t ever charge for open source’; if they are, ignore them, they may be vocal but they are in a small minority.
    (3) This ties back to (1)- if SLED were actually developed substantially openly, there would be no significant delta. (I might add that if SLED were developed /sanely/, there would be no significant feature delta- including substantive features in an enterprise distro that aren’t tested in a free/open distro is poor QA and development strategy, IMHO. But the substance of that discussion is a different post, probably tied into the Ubuntu QA thread I’ve been discussing this week.)
    (4) Many of Novell’s most recent contributions have a touch of NIH about them- code drops without much significant community building around them. There are sometimes good reasons for that to happen, but the extensive marketing of them (particularly XGL) makes it sound like the rest of us should be bursting with joy that mighty Novell has deigned to gift us with this code. No one appreciates that.

    Anyway, I think Novell is definitely headed in the right direction, but you’re always going to have the perception of SLED as a proprietary distro as long as it contains proprietary code and is developed behind the Novell curtain. That’s just how it is.

  6. SLED10 includes the proprietary HAL module of the madwifi drivers.

    Please check your facts.

  7. To add to the list of things Novell has contributes: AppArmor (which novell paid money for and then turned around and gave it out for free), YAST, and iFolder

  8. Don’t forget the Hula Project http://www.hula-project.org/ Novell open sourced 200,000 lines of code from its NetMail product.

    Here’s an article that touches on that contribution to open source as well as a fee others http://opensource.sys-con.com/read/48282.htm

  9. I forgot to mention there was a Novell Open Audio episode that touched on Novell’s efforts on the Hula Project
    [audio src="http://www.novell.com/recording/novellopenaudio/noa_bs06-techlab01.ogg" /]
    [audio src="http://www.novell.com/recording/novellopenaudio/noa_bs06-techlab01.mp3" /]

    There’s also the Higgins Trust Framework Project that Novell is working on with IBM. http://www.eclipse.org/higgins/

    There was a Novell Open Audio episode that touched on Novell’s efforts in working on that project
    [audio src="http://www.novell.com/recording/novellopenaudio/noa_060307_003.ogg" /]
    [audio src="http://www.novell.com/recording/novellopenaudio/noa_060307_003.mp3" /]

    There’s also the Bandit Project that Novell is sponsoring. http://www.bandit-project.org/

    And again, there was a Novell Open Audio that touched on Novell’s efforts there as well.
    [audio src="http://www.novell.com/recording/novellopenaudio/noa_060628_020.ogg" /]
    [audio src="http://www.novell.com/recording/novellopenaudio/noa_060628_020.mp3" /]

    Novell is also contributing to XFLAIM which is an an embeddable cross-platform XML database engine. XFLAIM is based on FLAIM which is the database that runs underneath its eDirectory product.

    And again, there was a Novell Open Audio episode (the later interview) that touched on Novell’s efforts with XFLAIM there as well.
    [audio src="http://www.novell.com/recording/novellopenaudio/noa_060505_010.ogg" /]
    [audio src="http://www.novell.com/recording/novellopenaudio/noa_060505_010.mp3" /]

    Actually, that episode begins with a excerpt from a LUGradio interview with Ted. A question specifically about the reasons behind Novell’s involvement in open source.

    You can’t really dismiss these contributions to open source. These are technologies that Novell has had years and in some instances over a decade of experience with.

    CNN has been using eDirectoy to provide personalization and customization of CNN.com for over six years now (scroll to the bottom of the CNN.com home page to see the Novell animated gif). For Novell to take the database engine that’s running underneath eDirectory and to open source it via XFLAIM is a major contribution to the community. If CNN.com has successfully used eDirectory (with FLAIM underneath) for over six years doesn’t that give XFLAIM some credibility as a open source solution?

  10. Stefan: As does Ubuntu. Novell is trying to provide reasonable functionality to people. While I don’t like the use of proprietary bits like madwifi and flash, we must be able to distinguish between ‘an openly developed and open source OS that is bundled with proprietary bits’ and ‘a proprietary OS’, and realize that one is better than the other, even if imperfect. If we can’t sanely make that distinction we’re in trouble.

    Cam: as I pointed out, code drops of GPL’d code != real openness or real community. I wish I could find a link to Simon’s discussion of the issue- it is way better than anything I can write. (Again, better than nothing, or proprietary code, but not anything to get really hugely excited about either.)(Especially YaST. 😉

  11. Part of the problem may be that Novell is not being seen as serious about Open Source because of the poor support for GroupWise on Linux.

    Many organizations are locked-in to Novell GroupWise on the back-end and hence at least tied to Windows. The cross-platform client is so bad in comparison to the Windows client – almost useless filtering, searching very limited, archiving doesn’t seem to work, huge work around needed to get to a calender view for someone you have proxy rights to, other calender issues, switch to caching mode broken – difficult to get working in the first place, useless support for GW-DMS etc etc. Novell’s performance on GW doesn’t indicate a company that is serious about Linux. Perhaps the strategy is to abandon the GW client for Evolution, but so far I haven’t been able to run that connected to the GroupWise server for more than 5 minutes before it crashes. I understand Evolution is little more stable on SLED – but that’s the problem. I want to be able to choose my distribution and e-mail client independently – that is what the free in free software is all about. JS

  12. […] In his latest post he talks on the subject of (Novell) accused as being proprietary. I want to avoid talking on the stupid comments he has let in in his comment, the only thing is to admire his patience … i wouldn’t let them in! […]

  13. Responses from the Rev:

    1. Bryan: Are you saying that Microsoft is misunderstood? Does this mean that you have finally come to terms with Microsoft absorbing your cool little company into their Borg-like mass 🙂

    2. Nik: Pure opportunism. It’s not just trolls who don’t understand/believe how strongly Novell has embraced open source. I was looking for a chance to post something like this. 🙂

    3. thebluesgnr: I agree that there are many Ubuntu fanboys who equate “open” with “free beer.” And, right you are, there is no CentOS equivalent to SLED10. But SLED10 will only be relevant to community users until openSUSE 10.2 comes out. 10.2 will leap past SLED in features. This time without the unfortunate libzypp issues, one hopes. Meanwhile shop.novell.com sells SLE activations.

    4. fitzlibutzli: “This is not just a rant.” No, it’s not just a rant, is it? Apparently it goes way beyond the discussion of this blog post. I’d be happy to dialog with you if you ever get to a point where youi can.
    5. Luis: Thanks for the thoughts and insights. I continue to find your perspectives enlightening. As you know, a lot of hardening goes into SLE products because they are made for business as opposed to community. That will always involve some amount of sidelining of development just as it will always produce a product that is only momentarily ahead of the rest of OSS, and then falls increasingly further behind until the next big SLE release. openSUSE will continue to be entirely in the open, as is necessary for a community-oriented distribution.

    6. Stefan: Please refer to Luis in comment #5.

    7. Cam: Luis doesn’t appreciate YaST. I do. 😉

    12. kOoLiNuS: I’m planning some posts on the Novell community program for you and Liquidat…

    Thanks to all of you for all the thoughtful insights.


  14. That will always involve some amount of sidelining of development

    I don’t actually believe that, for most definitions of sidelining. But I should probably shut up about that until I have time to write my Enterprise QA Magnum Opus, which should be… about 2010 or thereabouts. 😉

  15. Personally, Novell is the best steward of free software and open source and really cares about their customers IMHO. Thanks Ted, and everyone at Novell for doing your good work and being the great stewards that you are. It IS appreciated, even though a lot of people like to stir the pot, I think your business model makes sense.


  16. Doesn’t this really boil down to what your definition of “open source” really is? I think open source advocates have not really decided what they want “open source” to mean.

    If we talk about “free software” (free as in freedom), then we would have to agree that Novell is moving more in line with the GPL and with the concept of supporting and distributing free software. From my perspective, free software has to be “open source.”

    What I gather from open source advocates, however, is that they must necessarily be “included” in order for it to truly be “open source” by their definition. I tend to disagree. A project can be maintained by one developer, released under the GPL, and still be good. What makes it better than proprietary software is not the community collaboration but the fact that the source code is available and can be distributed freely.

    Even in a community open source project, such as KDE, everyone cannot be included. Someone has to be in charge.

    I mainly use Kubuntu on my desktop and laptop, but I value the contributions of Novell, especially KNetworkManager, which has made connecting a laptop to a wireless network as effortless as it was for me when I used Mac OS X.

    I think we have to make a choice here. Do we want the benevolent dictator along with a quality product or do we want absolute democracy along with a serious drop in efficiency?

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