Today Novell (NASDAQ: NOVL) makes a play for Linux users new and old with the release of its openSUSE 11 distribution.
Version 11 introduces an installer, improved package management and updated key open source packages.
The new distribution is Novell’s attempt to put its best stuff out on the field as it ramps up the competition against Red Hat’s Fedora and Ubuntu Linux in the growing Linux community.
Joe Brockmeier, openSUSE community manager, told InternetNews.com that openSUSE 11’s strength is its targeting of end users making the switch from Vista. “We’re also targeting the longtime Linux users,” he added.
In Brockmeier’s view, openSUSE 11 is easy enough to use for new user, and it doesn’t dumb Linux down to the point where it is unpleasant for longtime users.
“There are distros that have tried to just cater to new Linux people, but we have a strong community that has been using Suse since the ’90s,” Brockmeier said. “And we have to address their needs but we also want to reach out to new users that don’t’ want to use Windows or a Mac.”
A key part of simplifying use for new users is the new installer in openSUSE 11, which eases getting Novell’s Linux operational on a user’s PC.
Brockmeier also noted that Novell has improved package management on openSUSE, so it’s easier for users to get and consume software applications.
Novell uses PackageKit, which is a GUI package management toolkit that enables Linux users to manage different types of Linux packaging formats. Red Hat’s Fedora 9 also uses the distribution.
Brockmeier noted that moving to PackageKit is something that all the community distros agree needs to happen.
“We really need to find as many ways as we can to reduce redundancies between the distros in areas that aren’t competitive,” Brockmeier said. “Updates and package management really should be uniform.”
The openSUSE 11 release is also the first for Novell to include the new KDE 4 Linux desktop — though Novell is including some back ports from the with KDE 4.1 point release to improve stability.
“KDE 4 was more like a preview release rather than a production release, so what we’re doing is trying to help KDE along there,” Brockmeier said.
One of the things that didn’t make it into openSUSE 11 in the manner in which Brockmeier had hoped is the smolt profiling tool.
Smolt is an effort Fedora uses to help track the number of active users for a Linux distribution. Brockmeier noted that the next release of openSUSE will see Smolt better integrated into the installer.
Another item that might show up in a future release of openSUSE is an easier way for Windows users to directly install Linux. In the latest Ubuntu Linux release Hardy Heron something called Wubi,which is a Windows-based installer that installs Ubuntu as a large file on a Windows partition, rather than the usual procedure of needing to create and resize partitions.
“We are looking at something similar to Wubi,” Brockmeier said.
The other item Novell is working on to ease usage is a USB installer for openSUSE. The Fedora 9 distribution included a LiveUSB version that users could create from Windows.
Brockmeier noted that on a personal level he doesn’t think a lot of people actually run a lot of their operating systems from USB keys.
Brockmeier noted that the openSUSE 11 release is also notable in that it marks the beginning of the effort working toward the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11, due out in 2009.
“The way that we look at the openSUSE distribution is really as the foundation of the enterprise products,” Brockmeier said. “It’s where we start doing the work that turns into the seven-year supported enterprise products.”