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Novell Gives SUSE Pro To Community

UPDATED: In a move officials say will spur more end-user interest in its software, Novell is going to open up a community effort around its SUSE Linux Professional operating system.

The software will be used as a foundation for a new community project called the OpenSUSE Project, which opens up shop on Tuesday at www.opensuse.org.

The Waltham, Mass.-based company will drop "Professional" from the software name, marketing its project under an outreach initiative called "Lizard Blizzard." The term is a reference to the company's reptilian mascot, Geeko.

Once the project's been established, the company expects to include other open source projects that can be used with SUSE Linux.

The site will feature two versions of SUSE Linux, the current version and the version still under development, intended for advanced users. When the OpenSUSE Project goes live, Novell will have SUSE Linux 9.3 and SUSE Linux 10.0 beta 1 on the site, available for free download through conventional means or through BitTorrent.

The source code for SUSE Linux 9.3 is publicly available now, and the source for version 10 beta 1 will go live on Tuesday.

Greg Mancusi-Ungaro, Novell director of marketing for Linux and open source, wouldn't say how many copies of the operating system it sold in the past year, nor would he calculate how much the company will lose from the move. But its OpenSUSE strategy, he said, will derive indirect gains down the road, as more people use the software and ask for it at work.

"People use in business what they're comfortable with," he said, suggesting the company is looking towards more interest in its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

Novell's community project is in many ways similar to one that's been in place for years at Red Hat , which shepherds the Fedora Project. The Fedora Core operating system, like SUSE Linux, is built on code donated by Red Hat and developed through input from the Linux community at large. Red Hat moved its end-user operating system to the Fedora project to put more focus on the potentially more lucrative Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Red Hat officials wish Novell well with its upcoming project and say it's a good first step. Leigh Day, a spokeswoman for the company, said the more Linux available, the better for the community as a whole.

"We are always pleased, at Red Hat, to see technology companies embrace open source and try to make open source and standards part of their policies," she said. "We feel that open standards is how interoperability will occur between platforms."

Where Novell thinks it's going to succeed where Fedora and other open source versions of Linux don't is that it will focus its development on the needs of consumers, not of the engineers who make up the other communities. Those engineers usually look at features they want created, he said, and tend to look inward in terms of development.

"One of the disciplines that has long been part of the SUSE Linux ethos is that we create a product that is actually sold in a store; we create complete end-user documentation, we create an installation program that even I can cope with, called YaST [Yet another Setup Tool]," Mancusi-Ungaro said. "All of those things, that focus on total quality and end-user success and a community of users that isn't technical, that sets us apart from the other open source projects that are currently out there."

While Red Hat's Day wouldn't comment on the suggestion that Fedora doesn't cater to end users, she said the software's 200 mirror sites and millions of downloads are testament to its popularity.

Novell still plans to sell a retail version of its SUSE Linux software, despite the fact it will be available for free as a download at the OpenSUSE Project site.

Mancusi-Ungaro said some people, himself included, like being able to buy a retail box in a store, with complete documentation in a physical form; it also lets users avoid the roughly 3GB-sized download. He said the retail versions will come with software demos and 90-day free installation support.

Revenues from the retail version will be put back into the project, he said.