How “Geeko” Lost His Mojo

It’s pretty darn clear that to make mojo, SuSE Linux Professional needs to look deep into its roots and re-birth itself as a public, open source project similar to Fedora.
In 2003, when Red Hat abandoned its GNU Public License (GPL) version of Red Hat Linux in favor of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and the deeper pockets of corporate customers, the Linux community and Red Hat fans cried out with (rightful) accusations of abandonment. Indignant, many went looking for greener pastures in the forms of Debian, Mandrake, Xandros, and other end-user distributions with free, community versions.
But within months, before much damage was done, Red Hat realized its mistake, did an about-face, and launched the Fedora Project — a GPL spin-off of the RHEL code base that serves as the company’s bleeding-edge technology demonstration. Now, almost two years later, Fedora Core is in its fourth iteration, amassing hundreds of thousands of users along the way. Building on that success, a Fedora-based version of RHEL was recently released, complete with changes and improvements that have been contributed by the community. And, just this past February, Red Hat expanded the Fedora project, opening it up to even more contributors and even more community involvement. Red Hat — and its community — are rosy.
But what of SuSE, the world’s second-largest Linux vendor? While Novell has made tremendous progress in integrating SuSE’s software and service offerings and acquiring enterprise business customers, it hasn’t been particularly successful in generating significant community interest. And while SuSE Linux itself is released on a more aggressive schedule than RHEL and is considered by many to have superior management tools and a more comprehensive list of included software — as well as considerably better support for non-Intel architectures — it just doesn’t have the sex appeal of Fedora Core. And even if SuSE Linux is better, it isn’t updated frequently enough to be the “go to” distribution for the latest and greatest stuff.
Novell clearly has a branding and identity crisis with SuSE Linux. While SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) sales are clearly doing well and is highly recommended by major computer companies like IBM and HP, the corporate and end-user desktop is being positioned under the Novell Linux Desktop (NLD) moniker. This leaves SuSE Linux Professional in a lurch: it’s not regression tested and stable enough for enterprise use and even Novell itself has stated that it’s more for geeks. Yet what geeks really want is Fedora, or even more maxi-zoom-dweebie distros like Debian and Gentoo, which offer a constant Jolt-induced diet of new and improved packages and updates.
Further bolstering Fedora’s popularity, third-party application feeds such as RPMForge and Livna add even more features and tricks. New versions of packages and fixes are added within days of release, and network-aware update tools like yum and apt-get, install the greatest stuff with the click of a button. If you’re looking for a package and the base Fedora update feed or the developer feed doesn’t have it built already, you can bet that the third-party ones do.
SuSE Linux Professional, while a solid and comprehensive Linux distro, just doesn’t have community mojo. With the SCO/IBM legal battle leaving UnitedLinux in the dust, and with SuSE’s and SCO’s former UnitedLinux partners, Mandrake and Connectiva, merging to form the number three Linux vendor, SuSE and Novell really need to do something to recapture the magic.
It’s pretty darn clear to me that to make mojo, SuSE Linux Professional needs to look deep into its roots and re-birth itself as a public, open source project similar to Fedora. While Novell executives might think twice about copy-catting Red Hat and many of Novell’s critics would undoubtedly categorize such a response as a knee-jerk reaction and a Johnny-come-lately, there are a number of reasons to Fedora-izing SuSE Linux. Heck, I think it would be a better Fedora than Fedora.
First, the SuSE distribution build system is second to none. It would provide a community-driven version of Linux to a wide range of system architectures (x86, AMD64, IA64, IBM POWER, S390, and no one) — something that would be truly unique. It would also allow for simultaneous releases on those platforms — dream on Fedora! And given that Debian has just dropped support for several key architectures, the “Geeko” community distribution (as I like to call it, named appropriately after the cute SuSE lizard mascot) would service a very key niche.
Second, “Geeko” would bring key SuSE/Ximian/Novell technologies such as Mono, Evolution, Red Carpet, NDS, Zenworks, and Hula (the latter at http://www.hula-project.org) to the fore, allowing even more extensive field testing within the community. Ever since Ximian was acquired, Novell has held those technologies close to the vest for use with its commercial software products. As a result, a lot of the other distros have moved to Thunderbird instead of Evolution, and APT and YUM instead of a great client-server technology like Red Carpet. If the community had easier access to those projects for testing and development, it’s clear that more people would use and extend them. What better place for great software than on a community distro that Novell would naturally have an awful lot of say in?
And after all, what computer nerd wouldn’t want to run a distro named Geeko, anyway?

Move over, Queer Eye. Jason “Nerdo” Perlow says grossgrain pocket protectors are Spring’s “in” thing. His fashionable email address is class="emailaddress">jperlow@linux-mag.com.

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