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Novell to debut server Linux update

Flagship SuSE Linux product gets a rebuild around the enterprise-friendly 2.6 kernel. Take that, Red Hat.

Novell plans to release a new version of its flagship server Linux product on Tuesday, built around a recent update to the core of the open-source operating system, sources said.

The Waltham, Mass.-based software company is expected to unveil SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco. Novell sells several editions of Linux, but SLES is its prime server product. The most recent version, SLES 8, was released in November 2002; SLES 9 will go on sale Tuesday with an annual maintenance charge of $349 per year for a dual-processor server, sources said.

The server Linux update will incorporate the new 2.6 kernel at its heart, sources said. Although Novell has already launched a version of Linux that uses the kernel, SLES is a flagship edition that comes with extensive support and partnerships with software and hardware companies.

Novell, which bought SuSE Linux earlier this year for $210 million, declined to comment for this story. However, it has previously said it planned to release the SLES update in mid-2004.

SLES 9 is a significant part of Novell's ongoing attempt to establish its Linux credentials and to win share from dominant Linux seller Red Hat.

SuSE Linux products hold second place after Red Hat in the markets for desktop and server Linux, and it's likely that they will remain in that position, IDC analyst Don Kusnetzky said on Friday, who noted that the research firm's analysis for whole-year 2003 was not complete.

The 2.6 kernel is a major change that could shift business customers' attitude to Linux. It works better than previous versions on large multiprocessor systems, it is easier to manage, and it supports databases better.

"The 2.6 kernel may well play a role somewhat like the change in perceptions when Microsoft delivered Windows NT 4.0," said RedMonk analyst James Governor. "It will be taken more seriously and treated like an enterprise-class environment."

Red Hat has updated some features in its product based on the 2.4 kernel, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but its full-fledged 2.6 version isn't expected to appear until early 2005.

Like its predecessors, SLES 9 will support not just "x86" chips--such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron--but also IBM's Power and Intel's Itanium. In addition, it will work with Intel and AMD x86 processors with 64-bit extensions, such as Intel's Nocona, which is scheduled to launch in servers on Monday.

Novell will also likely announce at LinuxWorld that it has signed on a major customer, Ford Motor Company, sources said. Ford is using SuSE Linux on desktop computers, not just on the servers where Linux is most common, sources said.

Novell raised $600 million in a bond offering earlier in July and said it plans to use the money to acquire other companies, among other initiatives.