Novell seeks peaceful Linux coexistence with Windows

Novell Inc. appears to have taken up the cause of Linux evangelism on behalf of the IT industry. The company frequently comments on all things Linux. At the same time it seeks to carve a Linux place for itself in the operating system space, which includes Microsoft Corp. and a host of Unix vendors like Sun Microsystems Inc. In North America’s Linux market, Novell is playing catch-up with Red Hat Inc. in terms of having the largest installed base of Linux users.

At the LinuxWorld Expo in Toronto last month, ComputerWorld Canada senior writer Rebecca Reid sat down with David Patrick, vice-president and general manager of Linux and Open Source at Novell, to discuss Linux and what IT managers can expect to see from Novell in the future. Prior to joining Novell, Patrick was president and CEO of Ximian Inc., a desktop Linux company that was acquired by Novell in 2003.

Sun is trying to position OpenSolaris as a solution for the data centre. How does SUSE Linux compete with Solaris in the data centre?

We don’t really consider what OpenSolaris is — open source. It’s not true open source in that you can’t share — at least in my understanding — any of the technology inside of Solaris with Linux or other platforms. From our perspective it’s more of a marketing exercise. But I think there is no question that Linux competes with OSes like Solaris in the data centre. That’s a target market we’re going after because we see it as an opportunity for both Linux and open source, and we will quickly be approaching the same customers and presenting our data-centre solutions.

One of the reasons users say they avoid the Linux desktop is because OpenOffice is not sufficient for knowledge workers and isn’t compatible with Microsoft Word. Are these myths?

The next release, OpenOffice 2.0, has really made some significant strides. It will have Visual Basic macros in it, and there are a whole host of features for the high-end office user. OpenOffice today is already quite sufficient for a general user of office productivity tools, but it has needed improvement on the higher-end features and application compatibility because none of the macros would run on Office applications. By supporting Visual Basic applications on OpenOffice we can migrate more applications.

In terms of the desktop, are there any plans with the likes of a Dell, an HP or a Lenovo to sell SUSE desktop pre-installed?

We’re still in the early stages. We certainly would like to, and are in discussions about the desktop, but we haven’t announced anything yet. But that’s an area that is very interesting to us.

What is Project Hula?

There’s a lot of open source development going on that surrounds what we would call a traditional collaboration server, which is mail and calendaring. What has been lacking is a centralized project, much like the Apache for Web Servers: There is no core engine that drives all of these open-source components. The idea of Hula was to put out a lightweight mail engine that supports all of the open standards and protocols, which we could use to create momentum around a centralized engine that we could use to build collaboration. This is where we see a huge amount of potential innovation, even quickly surpassing the current class of ICE (information content exchange) servers that are around today. These have been around for many years and they tend to be bulky in size, and they’re difficult to interface with.

How do management tools for Linux stack up against management tools for Windows?

Management tools are more mature on the Windows side but they’re evolving rapidly on the Linux side. Ximian actually had a product called Red Carpet, which was a Linux management tool. When Ximian was acquired, it was merged into ZenWorks. Now it’s called ZenWorks Linux Management (ZenWorks 7.0 is shipping in June.) Linux inherently has something called the RPM packaging, which is a tool for installing packages and tracking compatibility of packages. Linux itself has a lot of inherent management capability through the RPM package format. We’ve taken the work done at Ximian with RPM packaging (Red Carpet) and brought the features over toZenWorks.

What is unique about Red Carpet? What do you get with ZenWorks Linux Management that you don’t get with ZenWorks for Windows?

That lies with the metadata that’s with the RPM package — it tracks the dependencies of a package. In the old days, when you installed a package on a machine, whether it was Unix or Windows, you just said, “Send this package down to a box and install it,” and it’s installed. You don’t know if it’s going to break other applications, because there may be elements of that code that break something else on your box. With RPM, you can actually go down and look at the machine and look at all the packages. With Red Carpet you get a report that says, “If you want to install this version of OpenOffice, not only do you install OpenOffice, you also need to update the kernel, you need to install a security patch, and you need these other dependent packages or these other dependencies.”

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