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Novell's Linux Build Service Goes Open

Linux, Tux and code
Building a Linux distribution can be a challenging process, especially when it comes to applications. Different Linux vendors use different packaging systems for application delivery, which can make distribution difficult for developers and software vendors.

That's where Novell's openSUSE Build Service 1.0 comes into play. The offering aims to make it easier to build packages for multiple distributions, including Red Hat and Ubuntu.

But it's not just a tool designed to help the open source community: The Build Service effort also represents an opening up of the development process for Novell's openSUSE Linux distribution itself.

"Yes, it's the tool to build openSUSE in the open," Joe Brockmeier, openSUSE community manager, told InternetNews.com. "It will change the development process by allowing all contributors, not just those employed by Novell, to access to the build service and make the process more transparent."

The Build Service is based on Novell's internal, proprietary AutoBuild service, which had been the tool it used for building SUSE Linux. The company has been working toward the Build Service's 1.0 milestone for the past 18 months, after announcing the effort in January 2007.

With the 1.0 release, which includes bug fixes and stability improvements, Novell believes it can offer software developers a way to dramatically simplify the task of delivering applications. Packaged formats typically allow for simpler installation and uninstallation of applications than by using compressed tarball files, an archive format also common among Linux users.

The openSUSE Build Service also makes it easier for software developers to distribute their applications because it builds packages for multiple Linux distributions -- including those from rivals Red Hat and Ubuntu.

Considering its benefits, it may not be surprising that the Build Service fostered a sizable user base even before it reached its 1.0 release.

"We have about 7,257 users registered," Brockmeier said. "You can download the source and run your own instance of the Build Service, but a lot of developers use our instance of the build service."

Brockmeier said that registration isn't required to download software using the Build Service, only to use it to create their own software packages -- so those numbers don't reflect Linux users downloading applications through the service.

He added that 46,648 packages are currently using the Build Service, along with 3,166 projects. Many projects will typically have multiple packages that are built as part of an overall application.

Among the projects using the technology to build packages are the KDevelop IDE for the KDE Linux desktop and Open-Xchange, an open source alternative to Microsoft Exchange.

However, obstacles to broader adoption for the Build Service still remain, Brockmeier said.

"The biggest hurdle is actually getting the word out about the service," he said. "It's been in development for some time, and I've found that there's not as much awareness as you might think within the [Free and Open Source ] developer community -- so, obviously, the openSUSE project is working to correct that."