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Novell needs a recount: Red Hat still leads in certified applications (Update)

Novell claims to be the application leader for Linux, but its count doesn't stand up to even mild scrutiny.

Update: Response from Novell at the end of the original article.

Novell has been doing a lot of good things lately in its Linux business, but counting certified applications is apparently not one of them. Novell on Monday announced that it has taken the lead in certified applications vis-a-vis Red Hat, with more than 2,500.

This is great, but it's also insufficient. Red Hat announced way back in October 2007 that it had passed 3,000 certified applications, and currently has more than 3,400, according to a Red Hat PR representative.

In fact, I just ran a search of Red Hat's independent software vendors catalog and came up with 4,314 certified applications.

Now, it's possible that "more than 2,500" actually means "more than 4,314," but I suspect Novell just got its math wrong. Indeed, Novell's certified application list actually includes 2,549 applications, as of Monday.

I was a literature major, so perhaps my math is wrong. But I think this means that Red Hat has 1,765 more certified applications than Novell, which I believe means that it has a lot more than Novell. In most contests, having more points than the opposing team means you're leading, which would mean Red Hat remains the leader in certified Linux applications, not Novell.

Update: I asked Justin Steinman, vice president of Solution and Product Marketing for Novell, to comment and received the following:

In the press release, we state: "Based on publicly available information, SUSE Linux Enterprise 9 and 10 have the most certified software applications when compared to the latest releases of all other commercial Linux distributions." [Emphasis added]

We only analyzed data for the most recent editions of products. Specifically, SUSE Linux Enterprise 9 and 10. Most customers only care about what certified applications are supported by the the most up-to-date version of an operating system.

When we compared the most recent editions of SUSE Linux Enterprise to the most recent editions of all other commercial Linux distros, we came out on top. We defined "recent editions" to be the last two commercial releases of any Linux distribution, so in this case RHEL 4/5 and SLES 9/10.

We relied on publicly available information the same information customers would rely on. We looked at all the major commercial Linux distributions. According to the SUSE Linux Enterprise Software Catalog, there are 2,509 software applications certified on SUSE Linux Enterprise 9 and 10. You can visit to view the ISV and relevant applications by platform.

It's a fair point, but I find both Novell's and Red Hat's use of application certifications somewhat misleading...and useless. Why? For the very reason that Red Hat states:

Of course, counting how many applications are certified turns out to be more complicated than you might imagine. And maybe it doesn't even matter because, where applications are concerned, there's a classic 80:20 rule in play. In other words 80 percent of customers use the same 20 percent of applications. Provided the 15 applications you need are available the fact that there are several thousand to choose from doesn't really matter. Nevertheless, it's fun to count.

Fun, yes, and useful to a point, but the real value of a Linux distribution goes far beyond the number of certified applications it claims. We passed the point a long time ago when the leading Linux distributions achieved critical mass with applications. It's hard to even imagine most (server) software vendors coming out with an application that doesn't run on Linux.

With this in mind, it's much more valuable to note in Novell's press release that SAP and Microsoft prefer the SUSE Linux platform (whatever that means...), just as Oracle used to prefer Red Hat, and basically crowned Red Hat the market leader with that preference. It's no longer quantity that counts, in other words, it's quality. Novell has a good story to tell there, as does Red Hat. That's the story that I suspect most buyers care most about.