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Novell seeks outside help with Linux

In strategy similar to that taken by rival Red Hat, Novell plans OpenSuse effort to let outsiders contribute to development of OS.

Novell plans to begin opening up development of one of its Linux products to outside programmers in a project called OpenSuse, a strategy similar to that taken by rival Red Hat, Novell is expected to announce next week.

Novell is launching the project in an attempt to attract more outside developers, new users and, ultimately, market share, said Greg Mancusi-Ungaro, director of marketing for Linux and open source. Novell is the No. 2 seller of Linux after Red Hat.

Novell and Red Hat each have two versions of Linux: a slow-changing, higher-priced product intended for conservative customers and a fast-changing version for enthusiasts and developers. For Red Hat, the products are Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Fedora, respectively, and for Novell, they are Suse Linux Enterprise Server and Suse Linux Professional.

Novell is paring down this latter product's name to Suse Linux and plans to invite outsiders to help build it, Mancusi-Ungaro said.

In the past, "We've made (Suse Linux) not widely available--just retail stores or a packaged download from an FTP. It's not the easiest way to gain a large user community," he said. The company is trying to turn that around through the invitation for outside involvement and an effort to distribute more copies of the software, a push called the lizard blizzard, a reference to the company's Geeko mascot.

Novell isn't the only one trying a more open approach. Sun Microsystems has begun opening its Solaris source code in an effort to regain the relevance the Unix version has lost to Linux. Attracting users is key for Novell: Wall Street analysts see Novell's Linux effort as a key factor in the company's financial health as revenue from its older NetWare operating system declines.

But creating a collaboration with the broad community of open-source programmers is a difficult task. Red Hat has tried for more than two years to get its Fedora project fully off the ground, most recently taking the step of creating the Fedora Foundation to try to give the project more independence.

The first stage of Novell's effort will begin next week with the first public beta test release, Mancusi-Ungaro said. Next, Novell will accept bug fixes and suggestions from outsiders, and, eventually, more active development. By the spring of 2006, Novell will make the product's underlying source code available and will provide publicly accessible servers that can be used to build the software, he said.

"We're trying to make it easier for application developers to come to Suse, create forks (variations on Novell's product), create packages and build the software," Mancusi-Ungaro said.

Along with the greater openness will come an effort to spread the software as widely as possible--an effort Novell hopes will distinguish Suse Linux from Fedora.

Where Fedora is available chiefly by downloading multiple large CD images, Novell plans to distribute Suse Linux CDs in magazines, at trade shows and meetings, and possibly by sending them to those who just ask.

"We will give away thousands at user group events," he said.