openSUSE, Now with More Open

Novell has announced plans to make openSUSE more community driven by opening up their Online Build System which controls Factory to contributors outside their staffing ranks. What does it mean for the project and community at large?

At the top of the distribution table there are several big wigs. One of which is openSUSE. It wasn’t always “openSUSE” though, that is a more recent development. When the original German distro was first released in 1994 it was called “S.u.S.E”, which stood for “Software und System-Entwicklung”, or “Software and System Development” in English. With later releases it was shortened to just “SuSE”, and then later again to “SUSE Linux”.

The initial release was merely a German translation of Slackware Linux, the oldest surviving distro today. Soon thereafter the team decided they needed an installer and better system management tools, and so YaST (Yet another Setup Tool) was born. YaST is perhaps the single most defining aspect of the distribution, something which is still integral to the distribution today. From these early beginnings, SuSE has grown and matured into one of the most popular and indeed beloved Linux based operating systems in the world and is especially popular in Europe.

After setting up a presence in the United States in direct competition with Red Hat, SUSE Linux was purchased by Novell in 2004 for US$210 million in cash (with a US$50 million injection from IBM). Having been beaten by Microsoft once before, many thought Novell might once again take aim at their former foe, but in actuality nothing has been further from the truth. As Novell made clear at the time it acquired SUSE, their goal was to well position themselves so as to defeat the number one player in the market, Red Hat Linux. Novell’s Chief Executive said: “Together, we are an effective competitor to the current No. 1 company in Linux.” At the time they also stated that they had no immediate plans to alter the development of the operating system. They took on an additional workforce of over 400 staff and things mostly stayed the same. So how has the distro changed?

Upon the acquisition of SUSE Linux, Novell set about integrating products and services and selling them to enterprise business customers. In 2003 however, their main competitor Red Hat created a community based version of its commercial offerings, called “Fedora Core”. Now known simply as “Fedora”, it is a community based operating system which Red Hat uses as a test bed for their commercial products. Novell had to do something and in 2005 followed suit, announcing the creation of “openSUSE”. This new product would replace “SUSE Linux Professional” and was to also be a community based open source operating system, with releases every year. The distro would also have a development branch, called “Factory”. Future commercial SUSE Linux products have been born out of the openSUSE development community.

Prior to the purchase by Novell, SUSE Linux was actually quite a closed operating system. It was built upon Linux and free software such as GNU, but the core development model and central software stack was closed source. It wasn’t until 2004, shortly after the purchase by Novell, that YaST was released under the GPL free software license. Other core components were not so readily disclosed however, such as those from the Ximian portfolio. These Novell was hoping to hold to close to their chest and make available only for their commercial products. Still, the open sourcing of YaST was the first major step in opening up SUSE Linux itself to the wider community, which in turn has allowed for the creation of openSUSE and a more open source focused development model.

It took some time for Novell to find its feet and garner community support for its products. Looking back however, they have become very successful at this and appear to be adopting more of a community orientated open source development model. Moving towards this new era, in 2007 Novell opened what has become known as the “openSUSE Online Build Service”. As the name suggests, this is a web based service which any developer can use to create packages not only for Novell products, but also for all other major distributions (yes, even Red Hat and Fedora!). Novell is hoping that it will become a central hub for future development in the free software community. Recently, the Linux Foundation decided to make it available through their developer network.

The build service itself however has other benefits. It has allowed Novell to further embrace the open development model and harness the power of the wider community, like all good open source projects! The Novell development team has successfully used the Online Build Service to develop and release version 11 of openSUSE. Even so, the development has remained firmly in the control of Novell employees, rather than the community itself. This is about to change. In the openSUSE newsletter, community manager for the openSUSE product Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier announced that, “openSUSE Factory is Now Open“. He says: “Factory development is changing, and we’re making it easier for contributors to take responsibility for packages and to contribute directly to openSUSE. This means contributors will be able to be directly responsible for packages, without having to go through a Novell employee to make changes.” So what does this mean?

Brockmeier says the first step is to break the distro down into more manageable sections. We can expect to see projects such as GNOME, KDE, OpenOffice.org and of course the Linux kernel itself. While Novell employees will continue to maintain an overarching control of these sections, they will be able to assign certain rights to members of the community. This will happen slowly over time, but the first important step is already in place. Those who will be able to contribute to Factory will be determined not by their employer, but rather the merit of their own work and dedication. Finally openSUSE is actually “open”. Can you hear it? That’s the sound of openSUSE gaining traction!

So it begs the quesion. Why has Novell only now started opening up their distro to the wider community? Is it due to some an enlightened perspective on the open source development model? From the get-go Novell has kept their products close to their chest and it wasn’t until their new arch nemesis created a community developed operating system that Novell ramped up their own community efforts. Is it due to the state of the world economy and slipping profits? Only Novell truly knows their motives, but whatever the reason, it’s good for the distro itself. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. Novell has seen how community development can work well with other projects and perhaps sees the opportunity to hand over some of the tasks and reduce their own workforce, saving costs.

Whatever the root cause, be it an enlightened perspective on open source development or the threat of diminishing returns, the clear winners here are the users themselves. The openSUSE community has won out tremendously with this decision and Novell is to be commended for that. Perhaps openSUSE will regain even more mojo and enjoy a further increase in popularity as a direct result. The effects of this decision are yet to be seen, however. How will future releases of Novell commercial software cope? And what shape might openSUSE take as a community? It’s important to remember that the project has not been wholly handed over yet and Novell still holds the reins. Even so, there is room for openSUSE itself to begin to take shape as a community driven operating system. Users should now get more of a say in the direction of the distro, which is especially important should Novell disappear. What that shape might become remains to be seen, but there are exciting times ahead.

Comments on "openSUSE, Now with More Open"


What? No mention of the Microsoft patent cross-license agreement that turned the FOSS marketplace against Novell/SuSE? Do you expect that we’ve forgotten already?


some people never stop being …….., How much harm has come to openSUSE or the FOSS community because of said agreement? openSUSE is completely GPL there are NO gray areas here. Nothing openSUSE has introduced to the “Market place” has even raised an eyebrow from the linux foundation or Groklaw since the interoperability agreement was signed. Would you please have that dead horse buried already!


The fact is that openSUSE never has been the best at anything in the Linux marketplace. I’ve tried openSUSE with several of their releases (before the joining with m$) and have always had trouble, especially with wireless. And the whole m$ partnership issue really tainted their credibility. That was enough to keep my away forever! It should be enough for anyone even slightly interested to think twice before considering jumping in the waters with such a dubious team.


I decided to stay away from Novell\’s agreements with Microsoft for this article as it is more about openSUSE and the community, rather than their business dealings. Don\’t think I approve of those dealings just because I didn\’t mention it in this article ;-)

The fact is that this move is good for openSUSE and their community, evil Novell or not.



OpenSuse IS Novell. The GPL protects the community from some surprises but the strings are pulled by Novell. Therefore as a non compensated developer hobbyist I will stay away. You might not be affected by the deal but as someone who develops on my own time AND also work for various companies, their extortion deal and the resulting language put me at risk.
Telling me that you wont sue me if Im \’just a hobbyist\’ is no favour and still falls under the threat column.
So just because YOU havent been affected doesnt make the issue wrong or dead.

The Ubuntu blogger below makes 5 pts about OpenSuse\’s that are worth being remembered when claiming \’different entity\’ status:

As I mentioned in another blog post Novell’s relationship with openSUSE is not one of “mere sponsorship”:

* openSUSE is a trademark of Novell
* openSUSE EULA is was a “Novell Software License Agreement” [I see this has changed for the new release.]
* openSUSE is promoted as “openSUSE from Novell” on Novell’s own website
* The openSUSE site is copyrighted by Novell.
* The openSUSE “Community Board” is lead by a Novell-appointed chairman, and must contain a majority of Novell employees.


Hi zek123,

Possibly so, but I still think that what Novell has done here is better for the users of openSUSE – that\’s what I mean by community. That\’s the crux of the article. I\’m not defending Novell by any means, but aspects of the points you argue are what is changing, such as the requirement of Novell employees. It hasn\’t happened completely yet, but it looks to be getting better.

Will Novell remain in control of openSUSE? Probably. Will they continue their dodgy Microsoft deals, undoubtedly.

It\’s also worth noting that \”Ubuntu\” is a trademark of Canonical and that the ubuntu.com website is copyright of Canonical. I\’m not sure about the employees bit, but I\’m pretty sure it would be similar.



In response to \’corktowner\’

RE: The fact is that openSUSE never has been the best at anything in the Linux marketplace. I\’ve tried openSUSE with several of their releases (before the joining with m$) and have always had trouble, especially with wireless.

ME: I don\’t understand your wifi troubles here (you could have tried being a bit more specific)… I run openSUSE 11.0 desktop and openSUSE 11.1 laptop. No wifi difficulties here.

Though I\’ve run a myriad of different Linux over the years, with SuSE I go back before version 10. Before the days of \”openSUSE\”…

Though the Novell-M$ agreement tweaked the world, I don\’t think we\’ve seen any negative impact from it. I rather suspect Novell would watch for that rather closely, as much uproar as they were subject of a while back.

So corktowner, before trying openSUSE again, please do make sure your wifi skills are up to snuff. openSUSE is a pretty rock-solid distro, going back before version 10, I\’ve been thru many distros, and always end up returning – and my returns aren\’t based on loyalties or anything like that, just performance and personal preferences.



I have preferred SuSE to RedHat for many years now, having switched around 1999-2000. It seems to me that they\’ve typically been the more innovative distribution. Ubuntu (or, in my case, Kubuntu) shows promise, too, but I seem to come back to SuSE.

However, my affinity for Linux has never been based on its being open source but on its being a better value than Windows. (Proof: I\’m an OS X user first — Linux 2nd.) I understand the fact that it\’s probably a better choice because it\’s open source, though.



I do not know much about characteristics of OpenSUSE.
So, the following comment should be a bitter medicine (rather than a poison) to SUSE.

I tried to install OpenSuSE 11_X86_64 on my Tyan Quad board S4985 with four Opteron 8354 (B2 stepping).
At a first moment of installing, she was pretending to probe hardwares well and collecting appropriate packages (but without showing what she probed and collected).
At the 90% of collecting procedures, she just went out without any warning message.
I don\’t know, whether she would come back after 2 or 3 hours.
Yes, I am certainly very impatient, so just kicked her out within a second by unplugging the PW cord, and called to CentOS.
VeryVery Quickly, silently, and with all messages showing what she (CentOS) found on my server, furthermore without any complaints, she successfully nested on my sever within 20 mins.

Slack is still my most favorite but NOT OpenSUSE, unless otherwise she offers more as her sister (ELSUSI) does.
RH is not my favorite due to a couple of issues on GNU things.
However, I feel from CentOS that I can still date with ELRH for free.

Well, my conclusion is that I would not tried that SUSI again by the next version comming.

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