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Wash me, but do not make me wet

The deal, and the response it has received from the wider community, is obviously the source of much angst amongst openSUSE users and developers, who get tetchy when it is mentioned, and don't see it as central to their activities with openSUSE. Loyalty to their fellow openSUSE users and developers is the greater issue, but the Novell operation has nevertheless coloured the way that openSUSE is perceived by others.

openSUSE maintains it's own FAQ on the deal, which is both a defiant assertion of independence and a denial of malfeasance to the wider community. The opposite view is given by Eben Moglen's 'Be Very Afraid tour' in which he asks: "Please don't make separate peace at the community's expense. Please don't try to make your customers safe, if that's going to result in the destruction of the upstream rainforest where your goods come from. We're an ecological system. If you undermine community defences you're undermining the whole ecology, and doing that for the benefit of your customers at the expense of your suppliers is not a good way to stay in business."

At the time of the deal Hubert Mantel rejoined SUSE, and said "I think it is a good thing especially for the users. If you think some years back, Linux was not taken seriously. Now even Microsoft acknowledges that it exists and will not go away. I understand that many people don't like it as Novell is collaborating with the "evil empire". But I don't like this way of thinking; we are not working against somebody, but we are working FOR Linux. Fundamentalism always leads to pain."

"What's important is that Linux is free and will remain to be free. The source code is open to everybody, this is what counts for me. Some people seem to be torn in an interesting way: on one hand they want "world domination", at the same time they don't like the feeling that Linux has grown up and needs to deal with the real business world out there. We have a saying here in Germany that goes along the lines of 'Wash me, but do not make me wet'. If you want Linux to succeed, you cannot live in your own separate universe."

Meanwhile, Mark Shuttleworth offered a welcome to SUSE developers who wanted to abandon ship and join Ubuntu...

Bridging the gap

openSUSE logo More recently openSUSE appears to have suffered unduly during another round of redundancies at Novell. Novell made an $8.7 million operating loss for the year ending 31 Oct 2008, and in early 2009 was forced to make 100 redundancies, of which 30 are rumoured to have been from the openSUSE development teams, representing 20 per cent of the openSUSE workforce. (This figure has been neither confirmed nor denied by Novell). For the same period, the year ending 31 Oct 2008, the Novell CEO, Ron Hovsepian, received "a compensation package valued at nearly $6.9 million". Concurrently, Novell is rumoured to be hiring more developers for Mono, and has made it known that it is in the market to make more acquisitions.

Among the openSUSE developers who are known to have been laid off are Hubert Figuiere, AbiWord, OpenOffice, and GNOME developer; Stephan Binner, KDE developer, Rodrigo Moya, GNOME developer, Martin Lasarsch, evangelism and infrastructure, and Luc Verhaegen, an developer who worked on the open-source ATI graphics stack, and the RadeonHD and the VIA Unichrome drivers. Some of these developers, notably Stephan Binner and Luc Verhaegen, are important contributors in their respective fields.

Through all these vicissitudes the openSUSE community has continued to produce a high class Linux distribution, which continues to receive plaudits, and appears to support a thriving and enthusiastic community, with busy forums and its own weekly news bulletin, which is widely read. The traditions of SuSE continue against the tide.

openSUSE has made efforts to reconcile its difficulties with the wider community and to demonstrate its authenticity as a community distribution. The latest release of openSUSE coincided with the first annual community elections to the board of openSUSE. The board is composed of the chair and two members who must all be Novell SUSE employees, and two community members, of and selected by the community. openSUSE 11.1 contains a new license agreement. No longer a EULA which requires acceptance, the license can now be seen as an open source license agreement, of which the openSUSE community manager, Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier, has said: "We now have a licence that presents no obstacle to redistribution, and no obstacle for modification."

openSUSE wants to be of and for the community, and doesn't believe it ever "went away". But the fate of the SuSE of old would appear to have been in the hands of others, the victim, you could say, of circumstances beyond its control and of corporate incomprehension and fidelity to the bottom line. Novell has a long history of excellent products and failed marketing, and the view from outside is that, once again, Novell is not succeeding in bridging the gap between its commercial potential and the intrusion of darker realities.

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