Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce With Microsoft and Red Hat in bed, what happens to SUSE?

With Microsoft and Red Hat in bed, what happens to SUSE?

With two companies — Microsoft and Red Hat — from opposite ends of the software spectrum linking arms in a deal overnight, the big question that remains is: what happens to the SUSE-Microsoft deal?

The Microsoft-Novell deal — SUSE was then a part of Novell — was initially signed in 2006 and, after its initial five-year term, was renewed in July 2011 for a further five years until the end of 2015. It has hardly two months left to run.

There has been no word from either SUSE or Microsoft on what happens next. SUSE's leaders are currently in Amsterdam attending the company's annual national conference.

SUSE is the next biggest commercial Linux company after Red Hat, though by comparison it is tiny; Red Hat has crossed the billion-dollar mark in revenue while SUSE is around the US$350 million mark.

All software companies, proprietary or open source, are fighting for marketshare in the same spaces and if Red Hat is given a leg up by Microsoft, then it stands to logic that SUSE cannot expect to receive the same assistance.

It is true that the major aspect of the Microsoft-Novell deal was the patent-licensing part, but the two companies have collaborated on other aspects of business as well.

Red Hat has signed with Microsoft at a time when it is unlikely to earn any criticism from the open source community. When Novell linked arms with Microsoft, SUSE was a part of it; since then, SUSE has undergone two changes of ownership, Novell having been bought by the Attachmate Group and then last year, the Attachmate Group was acquired by the British mainframe computer group Micro Focus.

When Novell inked the Redmond deal, it took a hammering from the media. One of its own high-profile open source people, Jeremy Allison of the Samba project, walked out in protest.

The deal affected SUSE's business; prior to being bought by Novell, it was generating profits as a private company in Nuremberg. Within Novell, it was barely able to break even. Once Novell was bought by Attachmate and relocated in Nuremberg as an independent business unit, the profits started coming in again.

Under Micro Focus, SUSE is continuing as it was under Attachmate. Of course, it is not the most important of Micro Focus' assets; as Kevin Loosemore, the chief executive of Micro Focus, told iTWire last year, SUSE is the least profitable of the assets which formed part of Attachmate.

From Red Hat's perspective, the Microsoft deal is a hedge against Oracle, probably the only technology company that Red Hat fears. Oracle sells Red Hat's own Linux under the name Unbreakable Linux, and, with its acquisition of Sun Microsystems some years ago, owns Java, the language which is predominantly used for business computing.

Microsoft and Oracle share a mutual hatred of each other that stretches back a long time.

Red Hat has made various moves to try and annoy Oracle. Sometime back, it announced a language called Ceylon, a Java clone. This is not the first time a company has attempted to steal Java's thunder: Microsoft's C# and Google' Go are two pretenders that have tried and failed. Java is still very much the number one language when it comes to developing for the enterprise. Ceylon was first called a Java killer when news of its being planned was leaked via presentation slides but that description was quickly toned down; after all, nobody wants to poke a stick at Oracle, not openly anyway.

Red Hat then took over CentOS, a project that was taking Red Hat's own Linux, stripping out the trademarks, and giving it away free, a perfectly legal thing to do given the licence under which Red Hat Linux is sold. Taking over CentOS was widely seen as pre-empting Oracle doing anything similar.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.