Concerns Raised Over OpenSUSE Spin-Off

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Linux version OpenSUSE could move to its own foundation, in Attachmate’s acquisition of Novell

Concerns are being raised over the future of the openSUSE.org project, with reports that Novell is pushing for some sort of spin out of the project.

Earlier this month, Groklaw reported that Novell has decided to fund a new foundation to oversee OpenSUSE, and act as a major stakeholder. Elsewhere Novell’s newly appointed openSUSE board chair, Alan Clark, has been said to be actively helping with the spin out.

“This news has caused concern,” wrote Andy Updegrove, a founding partner at the law-firm, Gesmer Updegrove. “Over the last few months, I’ve frequently pointed out the vulnerability of important open source projects that are supported and controlled by corporate sponsors, rather than hosted by independent foundations funded by corporate sponsors.”

Attachmate muddies the waters

The concern over the future of the openSUSE project and Novell’s own product portfolio, was triggered after the news that Attachmate was buying Novell for $2.2 billion (£1.4 billion)  in November. Any move to spin-off or dispose of Novell businesses is now subject to Attachmate’s approval, and the company has said little beyond a brief  statement.

“Recently, the future of the SUSE Linux Project (as compared to the Novell commercial Linux distribution based on the work of that project) has become rather murky, as reported by Pamela Jones, at Groklaw,” wrote Updegrove. “Apparently, Novell is facilitating some sort of spin out of the Project…. Alan Clark, Novell’s representative on the Project Board, is actively helping with the spin out. That being the case, one has to assume that Attachmate must support the spinout as well.”

Updegrove however wrote that he was sceptical of the move, and wondered how the spin off would work whilst Novell is mired in the process of being acquired. Other commenters feel that the new openSUSE foundation will still be dominated by Novell.

Attachmate is a system management firm run by venture-capital financiers, and it gained the bulk of Novell under the deal. Attachmate said it would split up Novell so that the open source SUSE business is in one division, while other Novell products for networking and systems management is merged into Attachmate’s business.

Meanwhile, some Novell intellectual property has been bought for $450 million (£280 million) by a Microsoft-backed consortium called CPTN, whose members also include Apple, Oracle and EMC . Novell has been a key partner in open source partner for Microsoft, following  Microsoft’s claims that Linux infringed its patents.

Novell said that  the Microsoft consortium had not bought Unix copyrights and it is possible the deal is merely tidying up patents relating to an old Office competitor, WordPerfect. However, Microsoft has relied on Novell for open source credibility in the past.

Attachmate Response

A Novell spokeswoman meanwhile pointed eWEEK Europe UK to a recent openSUSE question and answer session with Jeff Hawn, chairman and CEO of Attachmate, in which Hawn stated that SUSE is an important brand and business that he wants to strengthen.

However when Hawn was asked about the future of SUSE, he was somewhat non committal.

“We cannot speak to specifics until after close, but what we can communicate now is our intention to establish a SUSE business unit on par with the existing Attachmate and NetIQ business units,” he said. “We believe that establishing SUSE as its own business unit will give greater focus and flexibility to grow within a competitive market. We view SUSE as a well regarded and proven technology in the open source and enterprise Linux community and we want to further build upon that.”

When asked what Hawn meant by “business unit”, he gave the following answer.

“A business unit brings together all the resources, IP, people and infrastructure needed to operate – to build product, deliver solutions and support customers,” Hawn said. “So, what is known today as Open Platform Solutions will now be centralised within the SUSE business unit. In most respects SUSE will continue to operate as it did as OPS, but will benefit from being a dedicated and more visible brand with a focused business unit behind it.”

Earlier this month Novell announced the general availability of ZENworks 11, and touted the power management capabilities of the systems management suite of tools.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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