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Community: Why Is Novell Chopping Its SUSE Linux Workstation and Desktop Product Line?

Nov 04, 2005, 17:30 (92 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Kurt Pfeifle)

Opinion By Kurt Pfeifle

Why has Novell management decided to discontinue their entire SUSE Linux branded desktop and workstation product line? Are they heading for economic suicide now?

These valid questions must be asked after yesterday's proceedings of an on site meeting at the SUSE headquarters in Nuremberg, Germany. During the meeting, Novell management informed 200 employees about current business plans for the company.

Recent announcements and reshuffles in the company leadership already indicated impending cuts of staff. Some sources have guesstimated the number being as high as 20% of the Novell workforce; overall, the company announced that its worldwide cuts would be 600 staffers, which equates to a 10% figure.

Novell's leadership has repeatedly and publicly stated their deep commitment to Linux in the past 12 months over. They even put substance onto their claims: they open-sourced (and put under the GPL) YaST, Hula, Evolution, and more; their recent founding of the openSUSE project is heading towards complete success; SUSE Linux 10.0 is receiving incredibly good reviews--not least because of the particular "SUSE polish" that is applied by its engineers to the rock-solid KDE core of its desktop.

After this week's layoff announcements, most professional IT journalists and analysts concluded Novell would concentrate the impending cuts mostly on the side of their traditional, money-losing business departments. I did so too.

Contrary to what was expected from recent Novell announcements, Novell executives are apparently slicing deeply into the Linux heart of the company. Jobs and resources are actually being slashed in several areas previously dubbed by Novell management as "key component parts of Novell's Linux developments": staffers working on Mono, Hula, Evolution and Desktop Strategy are getting the sack.

SUSE customers around the world will be shocked and puzzled by this management decision. If they feel like I do, they'll liken the recent Novell moves to the ones we witnessed at Sun Microsystems--a management team that doesn't know what direction they want to head and changes course every other week.

I grew into, and became familiar with, the Linux world as a SUSE user. SUSE was my "first love" in the open source family. I found it to be the most easy to learn and easy to use Linux distribution of its time--and it was a very complete one too. I recommended SUSE to many friends, colleagues, and even some members of my family. I had never had cause to regret this--though I was tempted a few times to look over the fence and test drive other distros. SUSE remained my favorite desktop distro all the time: being the most polished and the most complete offering for my personal desktop, SUSE was my first choice for servers too.

It appears these feelings are shared by more users. After all, SUSE Linux won all their awards in the past years because it served as a first and pleasant introduction into the Linux and Open Source world to many hundreds of thousands of users around the world. They encountered Linux first in the shape of SUSE--and, loving it, very often they tended to stay loyal for many years to their initial Linux distro.

This loyalty is being destroyed now. Novell seems to heading for a subscription-based, server-only product line--much like Red Hat is already doing.

If this is the case: what will be the remaining differentiating items to make me choose SUSE over Red Hat? Why should I use the bad copy, when I have the same thing as an original?

As a consequence of their layoffs, Novell is also laying off one KDE core developer employed by SUSE. But other areas will suffer even more. The entire Evolution development team (mostly based in India) seems to be dissolved, with only one maintainer left to keep the product breathing (after all, there are existing Novell customers); Hula development is said to be cut completely; Mono development is also seriously affected; what the future holds for the NLD product remains to be seen.

The GUI requirements needed to satisfy a non-command line interface for the remaining Novell server product line will apparently be GNOME only.

I feel sorry for SUSE. It was a great distro for Desktop usage. Even the best, in my personal opinion. Axing and killing it is a setback for all its users. Figures that I learned to know indicate that amongst all openSUSE/SUSE 10.0 users there is an 85% preference of KDE for their choice of desktop environment.

Being a KDE contributor and a KDE user since version 1.2 I also feel this is a certainly a setback for everyone working towards Linux desktop adoption. But it definitely is not the end of Linux desktop adoption. And it surely will not derail KDE from its path of development.

The KDE project at large has a flat and bazaar-like structure. It is based on a very broad and vibrant user community around the globe; undoubtedly, it will be able to deal with this setback very efficiently.

KDE in the past steered a course of independence. While working with commercial corporations as partners, the project has always guarded and fostered their close links to their user community as their major source of life. KDE has never allowed itself to become dependent on a single or a few large companies.

The developer being laid off has already stated that he keeps contributing to KDE. KDE's imminent 3.5 release is not affected at all; development for 4.0 continues full speed; KDE-specific support for exciting new technologies is in the pipeline (see, for example, the upcoming EXA extension for the X11 window system); and porting of important KDE applications such as the groupware client Kontact and the music player amaroK to the Windows platform are gaining momentum.

KDE's acceptance in the broad market continues to grow--as is also demonstrated by the fact that some of its core technologies have been adopted as key components in new commercial products by Apple, Google, and Nokia.

Given that there soon may not be a SUSE desktop distribution any more, looks like I need to switch distro: to Kubuntu, maybe?

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