Novell's marriage of Linux and Windows

Novell has just released the latest versions of its flagship operating system: SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) and SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server) 11. You don't have to be a Linux expert to quickly see what's different about these Linux distributions. SLE is easily the most Windows-friendly of any edition of Linux in history.

How friendly? I've already been using SLED 11 for a few days and I can now say that you can manage SLED workstations with AD (Active Directory); read and write Office 2007 file formats; watch and listen to Microsoft Silverlight and Windows Media videos and audio; and work smoothly and fully with Exchange server. SLED's the closest thing you've ever seen to a Windows desktop that's actually Linux. For more on that, look for my SLED review in ComputerWorld later this week.

Novell and Microsoft's partnership doesn't stop at the desktop. Novell states that SLE will run at near-native performance on Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization. While I haven't done any extensive testing of this, I have used a SLES 11 beta on Hyper-V running on Windows Server 2008, and it was darn fast.

Novell has also introduced a new product along with SLE: SUSE Linux Enterprise Mono Extension. Mono is a Novell-sponsored, open-source project that enables administrators and users to run .NET based applications on Linux. This new product provides commercial support for Mono. The company claims that SUSE Linux Enterprise Mono Extension will allow organizations to consolidate their .NET applications onto Linux, dramatically saving costs.

In particular, Novell claims that SUSE Linux Enterprise Mono Extension will work on mainframes. In other words, you can run .NET-based applications on IBM System z. Frankly, this strikes me as doing more than anything Microsoft has ever done to make it possible that .NET might finally challenge Java-based server applications.

This is all good news for Windows users who want their Windows infrastructure with some Linux stability. Free software purists, who see Novell as the Benedict Arnold of Linux for partnering with Microsoft, have another take.

Roy S. Schestowitz, an editor at Boycott Novell told me that there are two ways of how to look at the Novell SLE news: "Version one: Microsoft and Novell work on interoperability for the benefit of the Linux community." And, "Version two: Microsoft infects Open Source with the Novell/Microsoft patent covenant, Mono/.NET, and Microsoft codecs."

You can guess which way he sees it.

I straddle the middle. While I can see Schestowitz's point, I also think that SLE, by serving as a bridge between Windows users and Linux, will end up making all Linuxes, and not just Novell's, more popular in the long run.

That said, the reality is that Red Hat, which partners with Microsoft, but keeps the boys from Redmond at a distance, has maintained its lion's share of the business Linux market, while Novell has stayed a distant second. Perhaps being Windows compatible isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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