January 6, 2005

Novell, Mandrake respond to Sun's Red Hat claims

Author: Jem Matzan

When Sun's Scott McNealy told us that Red Hat had the Linux market, we decided it might be a good idea to find out what Novell and Mandrakesoft had to say about that. We exchanged email with Mandrakesoft CEO François Bancilhon and Novell's director of product management and marketing, Charlie Ungashick, on the subject of Solaris 10, Red Hat, and how they compete in a consolidating market.

NewsForge: When we asked him how Solaris 10 compared to other Linux distributions, Sun CEO Scott McNealy told us, "I've been in this business for more than 20 years, and whatever Wall Street went with, has the market. We believe the market's tipped -- Red Hat won [the Linux market]." Do you feel that Red Hat truly has a stranglehold on the Linux server market? What about other markets? What unique features, products, or services do you offer that no other Linux distributions have?

François Bancilhon: I'd just like to point out a few things: first, I doubt anyone can seriously make predictions about the state of the Linux market two years from now, let alone five. Maybe Red Hat will have disappeared by then, who knows? The Linux market is still very young and unstable. It's also growing extremely fast, and it offers fantastic business opportunities. No single vendor really has a hold on the market right now, and that includes Red Hat and Novell. The race has hardly just begun, and Mandrakesoft intends to make it to the finish line.

Second, there's a world beyond Wall Street. Red Hat might be the dominant player in the U.S. market right now, but they're still a very minor player in the rest of the world. I don't need to remind you that the E.U. is the world's largest economy.

But there's one point that McNealy and I would probably agree on: some consolidation is in order. Some Linux companies will fail, and some will be taken over. Mandrakesoft is not planning on belonging to either of those categories -- we're currently looking at various opportunities to acquire new assets in the market.

Charlie Ungashick: Sun's various comments about Linux over the past year or so have caused more than a few people to scratch their heads. As you may know, we partner with Sun on Linux -- we work together on Linux related technologies like GNOME and Evolution, and Novell's SUSE Linux operating system is the foundation for Sun's own Java Desktop System. We look forward to continue to provide Sun with the best Linux operating system for today's enterprise.

As for Red Hat, we believe that market dynamics are changing. It's true that Red Hat enjoyed a comfortable lead, particularly in the x86 server market and in North America. However, we believe that market dynamics will shift in Novell's favor as the industry sees wide-scale Linux server deployments over the next two to three years. These deployments are being fueled by hardware refreshes, new application roll-outs, replacement of unsupported Windows NT servers, and of course, Unix-to-Linux migrations.

While SUSE Linux has many technical advantages over Red Hat, including the fastest kernel 2.6-based performance, and far easier systems management capabilities, it's the value around Linux where Novell excels. For example, Novell's technical support staff alone outnumbers Red Hat's entire employee base, and our support professionals are trained on Unix, NetWare, and Windows (not just Linux), so they can handle any number of integration issues that come their way. Novell's indemnification program goes beyond Red Hat's limited warranty protection. We have a strong VAR and system integrator channel. And our advanced networking capabilities including file, print, directory, and identity management are already running today on Linux. And customers are reacting positively to our flexible technical support programs and licensing terms.

Another advantage Novell has is our presence in the wide-open Asia and India markets where we have a strong presence via our NetWare installed base. Plus we have already established relationships with companies in the Greater China region as well as relationships with local entities inside China. This is the region that Red Hat, Microsoft, IBM, and HP are rushing to.

NF: When asked to sum up the reasons why Solaris 10 would be a better choice than a Linux distribution, McNealy said, "Solaris 10 costs less, has a faster IP stack, and Linux doesn't have DTrace, ZFS, backwards compatibility with older Linux binaries, or the service and support that Sun offers." How do you respond to these claims? Do you have any products and/or services that you feel are competitive with Solaris 10?

FB: As for costing less, I believe we're pretty competitive as it is. It's true that Solaris 10 has, on paper, a number of attractive features. But does Solaris have the following?

  • Easy installation, configuration, and maintenance
  • Advanced package management
  • Out-of-the-box, automated updating
  • Support for the widest range of hardware

We also have dedicated products for clustering and security that Sun does not offer. But the mere fact that one of the features of Solaris 10 Sun advertises most is Linux compatibility is enough to show just how long a way Linux has come.

CU: Solaris is a very capable operating system. So is today's Linux -- particularly with the major enhancements in the 2.6 Linux kernel. But to compare both on the basis of speeds and feeds would potentially miss a more important point: industry adoption. Linux is the fastest growing server operating system today, whereas Unix is declining. Most of the innovation today is around Linux, and major vendors like IBM, HP, Novell, and Red Hat are all contributing. Major software vendors are moving their applications to Linux too.

The big advantage that Novell/SUSE Linux has over Solaris x86 (and even more so over Solaris/SPARC) is that with Solaris the user is locked in to Sun. Even Solaris x86 gives you only a few choices for hardware. It does not run on Itanium 2 or POWER architectures. And as of now it runs only on AMD Opteron and Intel 32-bit. Sun says that it will run on EM64T, but it does not have any servers with Intel's new 64-bit Xeon architecture. So users are locked into Sun again, something most CIOs and IT managers have been trying to avoid.

Major vendors such as HP and IBM are speeding up the implementation of Unix technology in Linux (virtualization, partitioning, etc.). Within the next four to five years, Linux will be on a par with RISC/Unix with respect to features/functionality, security, scalability, etc.

Sun has been talking about open sourcing Solaris since 2000. This is its third discussion about open source Solaris. It is very questionable whether Sun can open source all of Solaris 10. Sun does not own all the code in Solaris 10. It has to get by SCO to do this as well as some third-party vendors. If it open sources all of Solaris 10, then the code could be available to include in Linux. In a move to open source Solaris, Sun will be arguably restricted. Most likely Sun will need to develop a new open source license that will be much more restrictive than GPL and it will prevent code from being moved to Linux.

While Sun's move to open source Solaris in our view is a step in the right direction, it's doubtful that Sun can create a comparable ecosystem of developers around Solaris anytime soon. Linux is also certified by a broad range of hardware systems, while Solaris is not. Another consideration: IT buyers have spent the past few years convincing their management to move from Solaris to Linux. Are these same buyers now going to go back?

NF: Do you think that Solaris 10 is a threat to your customer base?

FB: If we look at the current trends, one can see clearly that (1) a lot of the growth of the Linux market is at the expense of Unix in general and Solaris in particular, and (2) many of our customers and prospects are current Solaris users. So, actually, I think Mandrakelinux Corporate Server is a threat to the Solaris installed base.

CU: Sun is a very minor threat to Novell's NetWare or Linux installed base. Very few Linux users would move back to a proprietary operating system. If Novell's NetWare installed base moved, it would be to Linux or Windows. On the other hand, Solaris x86 is competing with Novell/SUSE for new customers. Red Hat's Matthew Szulik recently said that Sun was now its most aggressive competitor.
Plus, Solaris is best known as a rock-solid application platform. NetWare has always excelled in the area of networking infrastructure, including file, print, identity, and middleware. The combination of these Novell networking services, now on Linux, and the application capabilities afforded by Linux gives our customers a win-win combination Sun just cannot meet.

NF: What contributions of note has your company made to the Free Software community?

FB: Mandrakesoft develops Mandrakelinux, a Linux distribution that is both professionally developed and 100% free software. We average 10,000 daily downloads of this software. Literally hundreds of thousands of persons were able to switch to Linux thanks to the ease of use of Mandrakelinux. I guess that counts as a significant contribution, doesn't it?

Apart from that, Mandrakesoft has also contributed a lot of code to KDE, to GNOME, to KOffice, and to CUPS, among others.

CU: Novell has a significant number of software engineers, support staff, and consultants dedicated to Linux and open source. As a result of its acquisitions of SUSE Linux and Ximian, Novell now has some of the industry's most talented open source engineers on its staff.

Novell employees are also significant contributors to key open source projects, including the Linux kernel, the Reiser file system, YaST, Mono, GNOME and KDE desktops, Evolution, Mozilla, and OpenOffice.org.

NF: What does Mandrakesoft's next Corporate Server edition offer system administrators?

This new version really benefits from Mandrakesoft's growing experience in the world of corporate IT. We've really tried to listen hard to what our customers tell us. This means Corporate Server has stable, user-friendly administration tools. We have configuration wizards to help sysadmins set up every kind of server, from Apache to LDAP. Corporate Server also has superior package management, including automatic updating. Those are things that may not sound revolutionary, but really make an admin's life easier.

And then there are all the usual advantages of Linux: stability, security, and cost, of course.

NF: What do you want to tell readers about your company and products, especially as it relates to your position in the Free Software world, enterprise environment, and the operating system market?

FB: We are happy with our recently-announced financial results: 33% growth in revenue at 5.2M€, 45% growth in gross margin and our net profit is 1.4M€. They show a healthy and exciting company.

But we actually believe this is only the beginning of the Linux market: we are at the breakpoint where the market is moving from early adopters to mass market. We see the signals for this change every day in our contact with our users, customers, and prospects.

CU: We've worked hard to integrate the existing teams with Ximian and SUSE Linux, and we believe we're on a path to success. It shows in our new products like SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 and Novell Linux Desktop 9. And there are other exciting things we're working on for 2005 and beyond.

For the Free Software world, we want to continue to promote open source, and contribute to its advancement. To this end, we've been moving more engineers onto open source projects, and in the past year, moved key technologies such as our UDDI server, the Microsoft Exchange Connector for Evolution and YaST, Novell's systems management framework for Linux, into open source. Recently we also announced a new patent policy, an initiative which would enable us to utilize our patent portfolio to defend against potential intellectual property attacks by others on our open source products.

For enterprises, Novell provides real choice. IT buyers can choose which security, systems management, collaboration, and networking systems to use with Linux. We compete in some of these areas, but we also work hard to ensure compatibility with third-party solutions. We provide corporate developers with choice of languages, tools, and middleware. And with our value-added networking services in our upcoming release of Novell Open Enterprise Server, it's never been easier for IT professionals to deploy file, print, reporter access, and directory services on distributed networks running Linux.

Novell is not satisfied with not being the Linux market share leader. Our goal is to work hard with our IHV partners and local connections in emerging countries where we already have a strong presence.

Jem Matzan is the author of three books, editor-in-chief of The Jem Report, and a contributing editor for OSTG.


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