While Novell’s ownership of Unix was confirmed by a jury earlier this week, Novell’s future as an independent company, at least in its current form, is far from secure.  With the recent jury ruling, a Novell acquisition could impact Linux vendors and customers.

Novell recently secured a jury decision against SCO pertaining to the ownership of Unix. Here are two relevant questions and answers from Ian Bruce, Novell’s director of PR:

Q: Given that SCO barely exists any more, what is the real relevance of all this?
A: The jury has confirmed Novell’s ownership of the Unix copyrights, which SCO had asserted to own in its attack on Linux. An adverse decision would have had profound implications for the Linux community.

Q: If Novell owns the copyrights to Unix, what does that mean for Linux?
A: We own the copyrights and we will continue to protect the open source community, including Linux.

Consider that Novell’s board rejected an unsolicited takeover offer from investment fund Elliott Associates just two weeks ago.  Novell’s board said the offer “undervalues the company’s franchise and growth prospects.”  However, the board did commit to a review of its alternatives, including an outright sale.

Many IT vendors could be considered as viable candidates for acquiring Novell or part of its assets.  For instance, rumors, jokes and suggestions that Microsoft should or could acquire Novell go back to 2007 and at least one April Fool’s article.  Until now, as Gartner analyst Brian Prentice noted at OSBC, Microsoft’s open source strategy remains muddled as an enabler of other open source firms versus being an open source vendor in its own right.  Acquiring Novell and distributing SUSE Linux would dramatically change that position.  It would also allow Microsoft to differentiate against Red Hat in a way that Red Hat could not match – choice.  Most customers I speak to have heterogeneous systems, so finding a customer that uses Windows servers and Linux servers is the norm, not the exception.  While Microsoft and Novell can, and aim to, jointly address these heterogeneous customers today, a streamlined development, marketing and sales process could benefit customers and Microsoft.  Being April fools, one has to consider the notion of Microsoft acquiring Novell in order to own the copyrights to Unix, which could be used in thinly veiled threats against Linux users and customers.  Personally, I don’t think suing customers is good for business. [Update 2010-04-01: I am not suggesting that Microsoft would or could legally do this. I am not a lawyer. I included this idea because everyone jumps to it when Novell's future is discussed.  But as @Kirovs comments here, Novell has released the code under the GPL, thereby impacting the legal rights of Novell's potential acquirer and other Linux vendors.]

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PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Recent changes to Solaris licensing could further encourage Solaris 10 users to consider Linux and fewer new users to consider Solaris at all. If you’re a Solaris customer, don’t overlook this license change.

While the “Linux vs. Windows” competition is often played up in the press, the reality is that Linux workload overwhelmingly comes from Unix migrations. Being the largest Unix platform, Sun Solaris has faced stiff competition for lower-end workload against Linux for the better part of a decade. As Linux usage and features have grown, so to has the applicability of Linux in more mission critical distributed environments, an area historically associated with Unix and Sun Solaris. Sun attempted to slow, or even reverse, this trend in 2005 by offering Sun Solaris 10 free of charge. Sun expected to sell subscriptions to customers seeking support and defect fixes in order to drive revenue.

The Wayback Machine documents the Sun Solaris 10 license as it was offered back in May 2005.

“Obtaining an Entitlement Document is simple. On the Solaris 10 Get It page, select the platform and format you desire from the drop-down menus, and then click the Download Solaris 10 button. When you arrive at the Sun Download Center, either sign in or register, ensuring that a valid e-mail address is part of your Sun Download Center account to receive the Entitlement Document. Fill out the Solaris download survey, specifying the number of systems on which you are installing the software. Once you have completed the survey, you will be redirected to the Solaris 10 download page for downloading, and your Entitlement Document will be sent to your registered e-mail address.”

Simply put, register with a valid email address, download Sun Solaris 10 and receive an Entitlement Document to use Sun Solaris 10 without support and for as long as you wish. The terms and conditions were unchanged until at least June 2008, the final copy of the license found on the Wayback Machine.

It seems Oracle has appended this sentence to the license paragraph above:

“Please remember, your right to use Solaris acquired as a download is limited to a trial of 90 days, unless you acquire a service contract for the downloaded Software.”

The obvious question is why would Oracle make this change?

Oracle must have determined that a large enough number of Solaris 10 users are doing so without a service contract. These users are attractive targets to convert into paying customers. However, what percentage of these unpaid users would Oracle have the ability to upsell into if the user had not been able to use Sun Solaris 10 unsupported for more than 90 days and instead migrated to unpaid Linux?

Free User to Paying Customer?
It’s interesting to note that Red Hat just reported that one of its eighteen deals over $1 million in their recent fourth quarter was from an unpaid user converting to a paying customer. By limiting the use of Sun Solaris 10 to 90 days, it’s hard to imagine that Oracle will build a set of customers that could later be upsold. In effect, the new license severely limits Sun Solaris 10 as a viable alternative to Linux for net new customers. But maybe this is a calculated business decision on Oracle’s behalf. If a net new customer needs the advanced capabilities of Sun Solaris, they’ll pay for that capability and the associated hardware from a Unix vendor. Sun being the largest Unix OS vendor, they’ll win their share of this new business. If the net new customer doesn’t need the advanced capabilities, it’s unlikely the customer would even consider anything beyond Linux on an x86 system.

Existing unpaid users of Sun Solaris 10 with an Entitlement Document could potentially continue their usage without restriction. The license change does not appear to be retroactive. However, I’m not a lawyer, so be sure to validate your unpaid usage of Sun Solaris 10 with your legal department and/or Oracle.

On the surface, this new license has little impact to existing paying customers of Sun Solaris 10. However, in reality, limiting the number of potential users and customers in the Sun Solaris ecosystem can’t be viewed as a positive outcome. With upwards of half a billion in Solaris operating system revenues per year, it’s difficult to argue that Sun Solaris is “dead or dying”. However, IDC’s estimates indicate that Sun Solaris revenue has declined at approximately 10 percent annually from 2006 to 2008. The 2009 data, due out in the summer of 2010 would likely continue this negative trend. Over the same period, Linux, and its poster child vendor, Red Hat, has grown at least 15 percent plus range annually. With this data in hand, one might expect Oracle to encourage Sun Solaris usage; a 90 day trial hardly achieves this.

What do you think about the new license?

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PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

But follow the niche alpha geek adoption carefully.

As with anything Google does, opinion ranges from revolutionary to lackluster.  Personally, I think it’s too early to tell.  More importantly, I think the success of Chrome OS won’t be based on the success of version 1.0.  Google has the uncanny ability to generate and maintain interest even in the face of negative initial reviews.

Chrome OS will be limited to netbooks, and more importantly, new netbooks that Google approves. Chrome OS is theoretically competition for Windows and Linux which represent approximately 80% and 20% of the operating system market for netbooks.  But Windows and Linux on netbooks allow a degree of user freedom that Chrome OS doesn’t.  Users can store files, be it pictures, songs, videos, spreadsheets, etc. on the netbook.  These files can be loaded, edited and saved with or without a network connection.  Chrome OS on the other hand, requires a network connection to access user files which are stored in the Google cloud.  This will be an impediment to Chrome OS adoption by average netbook consumers.  Rational or not, the fear of needing to get at files “in the cloud” but not having a Wifi/3G connection will diminish the allure of a netbook that starts in under 7 seconds to regular users.

On the other hand, geeks will be chomping at the bits to pick up a Chrome OS netbook to try out during the 2010 holiday season.  Yes, the “geek” audience is without a doubt a niche market.  So it’s easy for Microsoft or Apple to write off Chrome OS.  But that’s a mistake. As John Gruber wrote in his excellent piece, “Microsoft’s Long, Slow Decline“:

“People who love computers overwhelmingly prefer to use a Mac today. Microsoft’s core problem is that they have lost the hearts of computer enthusiasts. Regular people don’t think about their choice of computer platform in detail and with passion like nerds do because, duh, they are not nerds. But nerds are leading indicators.”

Microsoft’s losses to Apple aren’t based on “regular people” choosing the Mac.  Rather, these “regular people” were encouraged to do so by the geeks in their lives who had made the switch to a Mac years ago.  Consumer technology vendors can ignore the alpha geek niche at their peril.

Truer words of caution couldn’t be said to Apple, Microsoft and Linux desktop vendors in the face of Google Chrome OS.

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PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

It appears that a portion of Microsoft’s “Windows 7″ training materials have been released into the wild by a BestBuy employee.  Why is this news?  Well, a section of the training compared Windows 7 to Linux.  The education material provided information that could help better position Windows 7 versus Linux.

You can view the Windows 7 training screen shots related to Linux here.

The Windows vs. Linux comparison material is likely defendable, but does not paint Microsoft as the open source enlightened company that they’d like to become, or at least be viewed as.  I should clarify “likely defendable”.  Most of the screen shots are, in my view, accurate.  It’s difficult to argue that any other OS has broader support for printers, digital cameras, video cameras, applications or games than Windows.

On the other hand, it is easy to argue with claims that:

“There’s no guarantee that when security vulnerabilities are discovered, an update will be created. Users are on their own.”

Or that Linux does not have “Authorized support”.

These claims are accurate if you’re comparing versus an unsupported community distribution of Linux.  But these claims are plain wrong if you’re comparing versus a supported Ubuntu or Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop.

Microsoft could have handled this potential for misinformation by adding another column for “Supported Linux” or adding a note at the bottom of each table.

Now here’s the surprising thing.  BestBuy doesn’t sell Linux machines.  So why in the world would Microsoft want to provide this information to BestBuy sales representatives?  I understand that these types of marketing enablement material is created once, and used essentially as-is for several audiences.  Some of Microsoft’s sales channels certainly also sell Linux machines.  Hence, this education was intended for them, and not necessarily BestBuy.

Note to Microsoft; tailor these materials by audience in the future.  Or even better, don’t deliver marketing enablement for certain audiences that you wouldn’t feel confident publishing on your public website.  This applies to Microsoft as much as any vendor.

What I don’t understand is why Microsoft is even putting Windows 7 on the same page as desktop Linux.  This may be a comparison that I or other open source proponents want to see.  But it’s not a comparison that typical PC buyers consider.  Why isn’t OS X in that comparison table?  Shouldn’t Microsoft be comparing with the operating system that PC buyers consider to be comparable, if not superior, to Windows 7? Maybe that was another section of the training material?

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PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

News that paravirtual drivers for Windows on KVM have been released by Red Hat isn’t, and shouldn’t be a big deal.

In the virtualization wars, it is clear that every hypervisor will strive to support Windows and Linux guest operating systems at the very least. Yes, it was news when Microsoft added drivers to the Linux kernel to help Windows Hyper-V better manage Linux guest operating systems. But this was more about the GPL code contribution and the following controversy.

Second, it doesn’t look like the KVM drivers for Windows are ready for prime time. Even the original blog post from Hadyn Solomon states:

“Paravirtual block drivers for windows has been very low key and known to be unstable.”

He goes on to ask:

“With Redhat expecting to release it’s Enterprise 5.4 version in September , maybe they’ve got windows paravirtual block drivers in working order?”

Who wants to bet that the stability, or lack thereof, of the Windows drivers is the reason that Red Hat has been “low key” about the work? There is virtually no way that Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4, due out in September, will have working, enterprise ready Windows paravirtual block drivers. Will that change in the future? Absolutely. Will it be news then? Sure, because it’ll mean that Red Hat isn’t happy to just be a guest in a Windows world.  Fight! Fight! Fight! ;-)

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PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Amanda McPherson’s post titled “How to Survive LinuxCon” made me realize that LinuxCon is less than six weeks away.  While there is a lot of excitement around Linus speaking at LinuxCon, there are several other great sessions.

Of course, you’ll want to listen to Bob Sutor’s keynote “Regarding Clouds, Mainframes, and Desktops … and Linux” on the opening day, and Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote and final session of the conference “Let’s Get Together: Coordinated Software Releases, The Linux Ecosystem and the Impact on the Global Marketplace.”

I’m also looking forward to the following sessions because they focus on the realities of Linux and open source, beyond the hype.

Why Open Standards Matter to Linux: It’s very easy to focus on the “source” in “open source” but there is another “open” that is just as important: open standards. In this session we’ll discuss how only through a combination of open source and open standards will users achieve software freedom and protect their investments. The panelists will discuss ODF, LSB and how open standards are fueling the rise of Linux.

Beyond the Hype: The True Cost of Linux and Open Source: In a time of tight IT budgets, open source has attracted much attention due to its cost advantages. Detractors to the adoption of open source technology often preach on the ‘hidden’ costs of open source. While it is true that open source technology is rarely ever truly free, claims as to the hidden costs of open source are often lessons in hyperbole. Some claim that while the initial costs of open source are lower, the long-term costs are higher due to support, consulting maintenance and indirect prices paid in reduced functionality. This session will identify areas that enterprises can legitimately expect to shave IT costs with open source, and where they can’t.

Kernel Regressions and Increasing OS Noise: The Linux Kernel is developing at a rapid pace. More and more features are added to the kernel. This leads to growth of the kernel binary (kernel bloat) but also to an increased cache footprint as well as higher complexity in critical code paths. The common experience is that the kernel becomes slower as time progresses. Faster hardware is needed to offset that effect.   The increase in cache footprint and complexity also leads to OS monitoring tasks such as the execution of the timer interrupt to become more invasive. The time the processor is taken away from the application during a scheduling cycle grows and so does the CPU cache use of the OS. This causes disturbances in the execution path of applications. The effects can be drastic for low latency dependent applications.

It will be interesting to see where the average LinuxCon session will fall in the spectrum of open source pragmatism.  Since many of the speakers are employed by vendors selling open source software, I expect the dialogue to balance of community and business goals.

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PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Microsoft has responded to claims that their Linux Integration Components (LIC) were only contributed under the GPLv2 after being out of compliance with the GPL in the first place.

It’s important to note that LIC was pre-existing code available from Microsoft.  The version I downloaded only supported Novel SUSE but it seems Red Hat Enterprise Linux was supported also.  Until a few days ago, this code was not completely under the GPLv2.  How much was, and whether GPLv2 and non-GPLv2 code was combined in a manner that violates the GPLv2 is at the root of this story.

A well-known Linux contributor, Stephen Hemminger found the LIC prior to its contribution under the GPLv2.  He writes:

“…but on closer examination there was a problem. The driver had both open-source components which were under GPL, and statically linked to several binary parts. The GPL does not permit mixing of closed and open source parts, so this was an obvious violation of the license. Rather than creating noise, my goal was to resolve the problem, so I turned to Greg Kroah-Hartman.”

Steve’s post resulted in Greg Kroah-Hartman (aka Greg K-H), the Linux kernel maintainer who accepted the Microsoft code, updating his post about the Microsoft GPLv2 contribution:

“Steve gives a little more of the backstory of what caused me to start talking to Microsoft in the first place.”

Microsoft’s Sam Ramji posted today:

“Microsoft’s decision was not based on any perceived obligations tied to the GPLv2 license. For business reasons and for customers, we determined it was beneficial to release the drivers to the kernel community under the GPLv2 license through a process that involved working closely with Greg Kroah-Hartman, who helped us understand the community norms and licensing options surrounding the drivers.”

If I’m reading the statement correctly, Microsoft disputes that the decision to release LIC under the GPLv2 was based on any obligations resulting from the use of GPLv2 components within the original LIC code available prior to July 20th.  Sam does state that Greg K-H helped Microsoft understand the “community norms and licensing options…”  Hence, the decision to release LIC under the GPLv2 was simply a business decision.  It is possible that the business decision was influenced by what customers and “the community” would think if the questions about the LIC compliance with the GPLv2 came to light.  Having said that, I can’t understand what value Micrsoft would see in keeping this code under a non Linux-friendly license.  By ensuring that this code makes it into the Linux kernel, Microsoft is making it much easier for customers to deploy Linux on Microsoft Windows 2008.  I go back to my “this was a business decision” view.

What do you think?

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Ian Skerrett just posted 6 Insights from the Eclipse Community Survey.  They’re all very interesting, but Insight #1 is really surprising.  Ian writes: “Insight #1 – Linux is doing really well at the expense of Windows.” Ian bases this on the following data:

It’s long been held that developers build applications on Windows regardless of which operating system the (server side) application will be deployed on.  This Eclipse data suggests a change might be underway.

Is anyone else surprised that nearly half (27 percent vs. 64 percent) as many Eclipse users build applications on Linux as they do on Windows?  Frankly, I’ve worked with more customers whose developers build applications on Mac OS X than on Linux; emphasis on the word “on” vs. “for”.  None the less, this data should definitely get some attention from folks over at Microsoft.

Yes, these results are based on Eclipse users and do not account for the Visual Studio developers who are 100% on Windows.  But let’s say Eclipse and Eclipse based tooling is used by (as little as?) one-third of all enterprise developers, it’s still a large enough audience that Microsoft needs to keep on Windows.  Maybe there is work that Microsoft could do to optimize Eclipse for Windows; much like Microsoft has done with PHP and Windows?

More worrisome (to Microsoft) is the fact that Linux has secured the #1 position for deployment operating systems amongst Eclipse users.  In related news, Sun Solaris/OpenSolaris fared no better, declining from 8% in 2007 to 5.2% in 2009.

My data analysis spidey senses are tingling.  I’d love to have more time with this data! But alas, life calls…

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I’ve been reading the recent Linux & Netbook blogs/analysis with great interest as my wife’s Thinkpad T40 is nearing death.  I asked her if she wanted a Mac, a Netbook, or another Thinkpad.  Her response: “I don’t care. I just want to read email, do some Excel and Word and clean up pictures with Picasa.”  Based on how I interpreted these requirements I suggested a Mac ;-)  She nixed that idea quickly saying: “if you want a Mac, like I know you do, go get one.  But I don’t want to pay extra for one”.  Bruised, I suggested she buy a Netbook.  She’d seen them at Costco, and liked the low price.  I told her we could get one with Linux so it’d be even cheaper.  Her response: “how much cheaper? Because I know how my Windows works and how to access my folders with explorer”. I made the mistake of saying that the Linux version was about $50 cheaper than the Windows version.  Game over.  She wants nothing to do with a Linux Netbook.  Not surprisingly, she wants nothing to do with Vista and its whole new UI either.

The discussion with my wife is exactly why I disagree with Sam Dean’s view that:

“… product differentiation–a better product strategy–is the holy grail for Linux netbooks. They should be more compelling and exciting than Windows netbooks, no matter what it takes to make that happen.”

Trying to make the Linux netbook more compelling and exciting than a Windows netbook goes against consumer demand.  The average Netbook consumer (i.e. my wife) doesn’t want a more compelling laptop/netbook; she wants a cheap and Windows-based user experience.  Nothing different, nothing more.

To get my wife, and countless other consumers to use Linux, the primary task has to be something other than personal computing. My wife knows what user experience she expects during personal computing tasks; her experience with Windows has cemented that expectation.  However, she doesn’t yet know what user experience to expect when, for instance, reading on an eBook device.  The primary task supported by the device is reading a book, magazine or web content.  Adding support for personal computing tasks such as checking her email or creating simple spreadsheets to this device, could introduce a different user experience than she is accustomed to on her laptop. This is because the device’s primary task is not personal computing. She has never complained that editing spreadsheets or saving files into folders on her Blackberry is different than how she is accustomed to on her laptop. (Note she does both of these tasks on her Blackberry often).  This is because the device (Blackberry) is focused on a different task than her laptop.  For the average consumer, the only difference between a laptop and a netbook is the name. Consumers expect these devices to perform similarly.  This is why Linux will face challenges in the netbook device market.  However, if we’re talking about a new device, focused on a new primary task, the sky’s the limit for Linux with consumers.

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Matt asks the question “Should Sun buy Novell?” which is predicated on the growth of Linux vs. Solaris.  Matt writes:

“IDC predicts that Linux will grow 21 percent year over year in 2009. I’m guessing Solaris isn’t seeing that kind of growth this year…or any time in the future.”

And:

“…(Sun) should double-down on its open-source strategy and fully embrace the operating system to beat in the 21st century: Linux.”

Several thoughts come to mind.  First, the notion of one operating system for any century neglects the history of IT.  Linux, or Windows, or Ubuntu or RHEL or Solaris or AIX is the right answer for 100% of customers in 100% of usage scenarios 0% of the time.  Choice matters.  It always has, always will in the IT market.  Even as the market consolidates, startups emerge to deliver choice.

Second, for Sun to shift from Solaris to Linux would be an incredibly risky proposition in the eyes of customers.  It’s one thing for Vendor X to buy Sun and make that decision.  It’s completely different for Sun to make the decision to leave customers’ Solaris investments out in the dark.  This decision would surely impact the trust relationship between Sun and its customer base.

Lastly, as customers get more accustomed to deploying workloads on hypervisors/clouds, the discussion around Solaris vs. Linux becomes less interesting; and from a Sun standpoint, easily becomes Solaris and Linux.

What say you?

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