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LinuxWorld: Novell's debutante ball

New partnerships with server makers Dell and Egenera will be among the displays of Novell's newly bought Linux status at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo beginning Wednesday.

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New partnerships with server makers Dell and Egenera will be among the displays of Novell's newly bought Linux status at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo beginning Wednesday.

Novell, whose NetWare operating system lost out to Microsoft in the server market in the 1990s, hitched its cart to a new horse with its $210 million purchase of SuSE Linux this month. SuSE lagged behind Linux market share leader Red Hat, but Novell is hoping its cash, customer connections and intellectual property will provide a boost.


What's new:
The LinuxWorld expo gets under way this week, with Novell in the spotlight as the new kid on the Linux block.

Bottom line:
There's much at stake in the open-source community, with booming sales and surging adoption rates and with SCO's legal maneuvering still unresolved. Novell's moves could shift the balance of power.

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Examples of SuSE's gradual gains include the finalization of an expected support partnership with Dell, the last of the four major server makers to make the move. And start-up Egenera, which began its Linux server business offering only Red Hat, also will include SuSE in the fold.

IBM, which has relied on SuSE to bring Linux support to its five server lines, endorsed the acquisition with a $50 million investment and believes Novell's move puts SuSE on a better footing in comparison to Red Hat.

"We think this is a very healthy thing, because it provides a good balance between the two," said Scott Handy, vice president for IBM's Linux strategy and market development.

There's still work to be done, though. Dell is on board, so customers in Europe, where SuSE is most popular, will have better support, but "Red Hat is still our major partner for Linux," spokeswoman Carmen Maverick said.

Software companies also are cutting deals with Novell. Veritas will announce it's selling SuSE versions of its software for storage management and server availability, and mainframe specialist Compuware and Web server power BEA Systems also are expected to announce Novell partnerships.

It's no surprise that established members of the computing industry are solidifying their Linux products. Linux server sales of nearly $3 billion in 2003 are expected to rise to nearly $9 billion by 2007, according to market researcher IDC. Over the same period, IDC believes Linux server shipments will increase from about 800,000 to about 2.5 million.

In other news, at its opening keynote speech by Chief Executive Jack Messman, Novell also plans to announce membership in established open-source groups--the Eclipse programming tools consortium begun by IBM is a likely candidate--and new security certifications in conjunction with IBM.

LinuxWorld is the premier show for the Linux technology industry; its August 2003 incarnation in San Francisco drew more than 11,000 attendees, according to organizer IDG World Expo.

"Our objective is to meet a lot of potential customers. Also while you're there, you end up setting up a lot of business partner meetings as well as analyst meetings," said Ranajit Nevatia, director of Linux strategy at Veritas Software, which stands to profit as Linux makes the move from lower-end servers handling basic tasks to higher-end machines with more sophisticated duties.

The SCO case looms
But the show has a dark backdrop: the SCO Group's legal attack on Linux.

It's quite possible that somebody wandering the LinuxWorld show floor will be employed by a Linux user company that SCO plans to sue for copyright infringement by mid-February.

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The last LinuxWorld conference, in August in San Francisco, proved to be a lightning rod for SCO activity. The company, which asserts that IBM improperly moved Unix intellectual property to Linux, unveiled the price it demands Linux users pay to use the open-source operating system. IBM, meanwhile, filed a countersuit alleging that SCO violated IBM patents, while Red Hat launched a suit of its own seeking to put the matter to rest.

Now the SCO situation is changing. Faced with SCO's promise to sue a Linux user by mid-February, there now are several legal umbrellas to protect customers and one to protect developers.

"It seems to me, particularly with the indemnity funds, it's less and less of an issue every day," said C.E. Unterberg Towbin securities analyst Katherine Egbert of the SCO attack.

Novell began indemnifying its Linux customers last week, following in the footsteps of Hewlett-Packard.

Other protective programs include a $10 million legal defense fund for Linux users from the Open Source Development Labs and another defense fund Red Hat established for open-source programmers.

Novell has joined IBM and Red Hat to become a third major SCO challenger, arguing that it still owns the Unix copyrights because SCO's predecessor failed to request them after buying elements of Novell's Unix business in 1995 and 1996.

SCO's claims have captured the attention of the Linux community, but seem not to have derailed the Linux train. "The SCO lawsuit does not appear to be slowing Linux server sales," IDC said last week in a market forecast briefing.

Lindon, Utah-based SCO has become the new bad guy for the often-fervent Linux advocates, but their traditional target, Microsoft, hasn't let up. It's running Linux attack ads in an attempt to sway potential IT buyers away from Linux and toward Windows. It's also considering expanding its Shared Source Initiative to let companies see source code underlying Office and other applications.

And at the Linux show, Microsoft's booth will once again feature the company's Servers for Unix software, now free. The software is used to run Unix programs on Windows, an ability Microsoft hopes will help Unix or Linux administrators make the jump to Windows.

The desktop drive, and servers, too
Microsoft has been largely impervious to attacks on its desktop operating system stronghold, but Linux fans hope to change that. The Open Source Development Labs on Tuesday unveiled a new multicompany effort to improve desktop Linux technology.

"We will have a steering committee, we will have a technical work group, and we will have a marketing work group," OSDL Chief Executive Stuart Cohen said in an interview last week. Among technical issues to be addressed will be interoperability of Linux systems in computing networks with Windows computers, he added.

Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Red Hat, Novell and a host of start-ups also have desktop initiatives under way. One of those start-ups, Xandros, plans to describe its products geared for business customers at the show.

Servers remain the best established Linux market, though, and much of the show's attention will follow suit.

MySQL, seller of an open-source database of the same name, plans to announce a strategic partnership with Zend, which sells support for the PHP software used to create dynamic Web sites. MySQL also will announce a graphical administration tool for database servers.

Red Hat likely will show off its application server software, which it began testing late in 2003.

One keynote will come from Dave Dargo, vice president of the Linux Program Office at Oracle, one of the most significant server software companies. Another speech will come from Ross Mauri, general manager of the e-business on-demand effort at IBM, the largest server maker.

While most Linux servers use Intel processors, other chips are important. Linux server maker Pogo Linux will show a new system that houses four of Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processors, while IBM will start signing up programmers who want to try out a version of its DB2 software for servers running Linux on its Power processors.

IBM also plans to discuss its ambitions in luring Windows customers to Linux as Microsoft phases out support for Windows NT.

IDC estimates that 2 million servers still use Windows NT, said IBM's Handy. "We could see as many as a million of those going to Linux. That's what we've challenged the teams to go do," he said.

Handy now believes business issues such as partnerships and software support have replaced technological obstacles as the primary Linux challenge. And IBM no longer has to spend much time convincing computing companies to warm to Linux.

"It's unstoppable," Handy said of Linux. "It's got enough credibility that we no longer have to convince vendors they have to do this."