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Editor's Note: What Is SuSE Waiting For?

Aug 23, 2003, 00:00 (40 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

Since everyone has a theory on why SCO is doing what they are doing, I will instead talk about something else that has been weighing on my mind for the past few weeks.

SuSE.

SuSE, of late, is constantly pigeon-holed as an "also-ran" in the media. It is, and has been for quite sometime, perceived as the "number two" Linux or "the other" Linux--second to Red Hat in many ways. Even though it it clearly the dominant leader in Europe and the undisputed king in its home nation of Germany, SuSE's weaker showing in the North American market has relegated perceptions of the company to "second best."

I think this perception is almost a mistake. "Almost" because there are anecdotal stories I hear all the time about how SuSE's dropped the ball in picking up a new customer or not handled some company's tech support issues properly. The people who tell me these tales are almost never angry--usually, they're befuddled as to why a perfectly good company with a perfectly good product keeps screwing up.

"Mistake" is the problem with perception that I would like to address if I lived in a perfect world. I would argue that just because a company does not succeed here in the United States does not automatically make it second to anyone. SuSE knows how to be a software company, and a successful one, and they should be judged accordingly.

Alas, this is not a perfect world, and SuSE has indeed brought some of this problem upon themselves. Over the past few years I have watched a successful and vital company slowly fade into the background while Red Hat tears through the market and IBM co-opts an ideal that could have belonged to SuSE.

That ideal is the concept of Linux as an overall solution, recently articulated by Progeny's Ian Murdock. IBM uses this concept all of the time. They don't buy into a single distribution of Linux--Big Blue sells Linux as a means to an end, and will use whatever facets of Linux they can to deliver an effective solution to their customer.

SuSE very nearly had this ideal in their grasp when Ransom Love approached them a while back about the idea for a new, UnitedLinux. UnitedLinux, despite whatever problems it had in its application, was still a great idea: an almost vendor-neutral approach to Linux that would not lead to vendor lock-in for customers.

Had UnitedLinux been executed properly, it would have been SuSE's golden ticket to the North American market, while infusing the entire Linux community with a good, strong dose of competition.

Now, we have an almost non-existent UnitedLinux entity that is for all intents and purposes, dead. Don't believe me? On August 5, it was announced that IBM and SuSE had achieved Common Crtieria certification from the US government. That's SUSE, not UnitedLinux.

Observers will quickly point to SCO's bizarre behavior as reason for this demise, but I am not so willing to lay all the blame on The SCO Group's feet. UnitedLinux had one foot in the grave long before Darl McBride started leading his campaign against IBM, Linux, and all things open source.

The last significant thing UnitedLinux did was on June 25, when it introduced its ISV partnership program. "Significant" would be their word for it. It was barely a blip on the radar for the rest of us. The government certification story got a lot more attention, but those accolades only go to SuSE, it seems.

So, here's my completely unsolicited advice for SuSE: make a move. Any move. You are condemning yourselves to limbo with all of your ambiguity. Is UnitedLinux alive? Then do something with it! Kick SCO out, add new partners, sell UL-based and -logoed products.

Otherwise, drop UL like a bad habit and get on with something else. The government certification is a good start. Follow up with some certification of your own, like that cert project UL's supposed to be working on with the Linux Professional Institute.

Your desktop offerings have always been strong: get in there and tighten the desktop up and start marketing them hard to customers, both corporate and private. Red Hat's moves away from their retail offering leaves you a way to compete on grounds they're leaving behind. And I know there's a whole slew of people out there that would rather give you their money than to Sun for their Mad Hatter system.

I am sure smarter people than I will have better suggestions, but you get the idea. SuSE needs to be up in the face of the IT communities, selling their wares with gusto, not playing tag-along with Red Hat.

There is some real truth in this advice for all of the commercial Linux distributions, not just SuSE. Microsoft is regrouping, UNIX is declining. What in heaven's name are all of you waiting for?

Because as of now, Linux is rapidly being associated with Red Hat alone. And lack of strong competition within any industry is not good, not matter how cool the main player is.

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