September 7, 2004

Experts say software vendors will soon offer products for different Linux 'flavors'

Author: Gene J. Koprowski

Ready for this? Linux software vendors may soon be taking a Baskin Robbins
approach. This isn't just speculation. Oracle Corp. is in the midst of talks with SUSE's new owner, Novell Corp., presaging a
possible partnership that might change the Linux distribution landscape.During July's annual OracleWorld conference in Melbourne, Australia,
Oracle president Charles Phillips said that the company was recently approached
by Novell, and, though it is already partners with Red Hat, the leading commercial Linux
distributor, it is considering the new deal, as it wants to add "another
flavor" of Linux to its product line.

"Historically, vendors have tended to work with one flavor of Linux," said
Daniel K. Boice, president and CEO of The Jaxara Group, an open source software
applications developer, located in Bethesda, Md.. "However, it seems that
vendors, such as Oracle, are using the growing popularity and acceptance of SUSE,
Red Hat, and other Linux distribution, to grow sales. I believe that in an
effort to increase both visibility, and revenue, vendor will begin to partner with
different Linux distribution."

The recent purchase of SUSE by
Novell was simply the first public phase of the new environment for Linux
distribution.

"The business model of companies like SUSE and Red Hat have now changed," said
Boice. "They are attempting to secure a profit licensing their distribution,
as opposed to 10 years ago, when revenues were strictly generated by providing
support. This will help the different distributions appeal to companies like
Oracle, etcetera."

Look for major players like IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. to start
looking closely at alternatives like SUSE over the coming years, as the
distribution of Linux evolves.

"We will definitely start seeing serious competitors in this space over the
next few years," said Joseph Hamm, a security engineer for Lancope, located in
the Atlanta area, who is also the technical editor of Linux Routing, a book from
New Riders Publishing.

There are other business reasons why software vendors like Oracle are
considering this move.

Among those factors, the discontinuation of support by Red Hat for some of its
software is a motivator. "While I can't speak for trends at Oracle, some
companies such as Lancope, Inc. (a network security intrusion detection software
developer) are looking at SUSE as a result of the discontinuation of support
for the Red Hat operating system," Hamm said. "My experience in the security
space has shown increasingly more requests for vendors to support multiple flavors
of Linux."

To be sure, this will not come without a price, he said. "This is a challenge
for vendors because as you start supporting multiple distributions of Linux,
your development time increases and your cost of supporting these multiple
platforms increases," said Hamm.

But vendors are incurring the costs of support -- because their end customers
want to have access to a variety of Linux offerings.

SIVA Corporation, a Denver area provider of point-of-sale software to the
restaurant industry, was recently asked by a major, casual dining chain to
certify its software for four different flavors of Linux, including Red Hat 7.x,
Red Hat 9.x, SUSE, and BlueCat.

"Depending on the hardware vendor they choose, this restaurant group may run
a second flavor on their back-of-the-house server," Jim Melvin, chief
executive officer of SIVA, told NewsForge. "If they choose a Linux component for their
enterprise data hosting, it could well be a third."

Another company, VMWare, an EMC company, located near Boston, tells NewsForge
that many of its clients also request multiple versions of Linux, especially
for testing purposes, and to reduce hardware acquisition costs.

Adds Frank Mayer, co-founder of Trensys Technology, a Linux software and
security applications developer and National Security Agency contractor located
in Columbia, MD: "Supporting multiple flavors of Linux is roughly equivalent
to supporting multiple versions of Windows."

But some industry insiders were cautious about the developments, stemming
from the Oracle and Novell talks. The distribution techniques employed by those vendors are "just one method of
installing a collection of files," said Brad Rutledge, vice president of
marketing communications at Linux Networx, located in Utah. "The installation
mechanism, amount of stability testing, and management tools are what
differentiate Linux O/S providers."

Rutledge worries that each customer's installation of software - no matter
what the distribution source - conforms to the Linux Standard Base (LSB), and
thus truly provided the benefits of Linux.

Another technologist, Dr. Adam Kolawa, the chief executive officer of
Parasoft Corp., a Monrovia, Calif.-based Java developer, said that the trend toward
multiple distributions for vendors of Linux may be risky.

"This is a danger," Kolawa told NewsForge. "Each of the Linux vendors is trying
to put value in their product by differentiating themselves with extensions.
These extensions make versions of Linux incompatible with each other, and, that
is why vendors have to work with multiple versions. It is the same as it was
with Unix versions before. This is not a good trend."

But other experts think that may be a bit too much fretting. "The trend that
is developing is that all companies having major shares of the market - IBM,
SUSE, Red Hat, etc., bring added value to Linux," Dr. Roger Norton, dean of the
school of computer science and math at Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY,
said.

There will always be technical issues for customers who run multiple
distributions of Linux. "But this is fundamentally not worse than having your application support
Windows 2000 and Windows XP," said Ozzy Papic, chief executive officer of
NetIntegration, a New York area developer of self-healing Linux. "And
as everyone knows, this was not a major problem for any application vendor in
the past."

An intellectual property expert, Doug Levin, chief executive officer of Black
Duck, an IP risk mitigation consulting company, in Boston, said that the
market for distribution, simply put, is evolving along natural lines, and
distributors are all going to have to change.

"ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) must work with multiple distros of
Linux because the market is divided, and each Linux distribution has various
hardware, device, and other support built-in," said Levin, the former director of
worldwide licensing at Microsoft.

-- Gene Koprowski is the author of "The Genius of Imitation: How to Profit
by Using Others' Ideas in New Ways. Seven Imitation Strategies That Drive the
Success of Marketplace Leaders" (Berrett-Koehler Publishing, Spring 2005,
bkpub.com)

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