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The History of SUSE: What Lies Ahead for Red Hat

Posted 11-02-2018 at 09:57 PM by wagscat123

SUSE's soon to end years as an enterprise Linux distributor under foreign occupation offer some perspective for what may be ahead for Red Hat. And since this is shaping up to be at an Ars Technica length, I'll mention the 2010 Oracle/Sun horror story, in case you think Red Hat sold out to the devil.

SUSE was founded in like '92 in Germany, and grew out of a fork from SLS/Slackware, which were the first Linux distros to offer a nice installer for Linux. (a testimony to this heritage is the ncurses-based installer of Slackware. Although SUSE's YaST [installer and configuration tool for SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE)/openSUSE] is totally different, it still includes an ncurses version that's great if you can't get X up). By the time of the Novell acquisition in 2004, SUSE was RPM-based and released every six months, available via either a boxed set or FTP install, kinda like pre-Fedora Red Hat Linux (not to be mistaken for RHEL).

Novell had been kicked down by things like Active Directory and Microsoft Exchange around the turn of the millennium, and badly needed a new market. If this is of any solace to Red hat lovers, Novell (now defunct) was certainly *worse off* than IBM at this time. In '03 they bought out Ximian, founded by the same guy who founded GNOME, which championed Mono and some nice GNOME additions. When Novell bought out SUSE, they completely took SUSE's identity and branding away, and made some swift changes to the distribution. They started to reorient a traditionally KDE-oriented distro (complementing Red Hat's GNOME orientation) towards a Ximian influenced GNOME immediately, in 2005 founded openSUSE and made the non-enterprise frequently released version of SUSE developed in the open (mirroring the Fedora/RHEL relationship that emerged in '03), and in '06 made a deal with Microsoft about interoperability and protection from patent litigation (remember/google SCO), which earned them much scorn in the F/OSS community before Nadella made peace with us. The agreement with Microsoft still stands with SUSE, and openSUSE's current workflow of Tumbleweed -> SLE + KDE -> Leap grew along similar lines to the Fedora -> RHEL -> CentOS workflow.

Novell couldn't save itself, and in 2011 sold out to the Texas-based Attachmate for 2.2 gigadollars. Attachmate focused on legacy technologies, fitting for buying out Novell, and operated Novell and NetIQ (another company it bought long before), as independent business units. Their top managers reported to the brass of Attachmate, but still were largely independent. SUSE was spun out by Attachmate into an independent business unit as well, and this is the relationship that IBM appears to be planning with Red Hat. SUSE grew rapidly in this period and kept its relationship with openSUSE mostly intact, and of course defaulted to offerings owned by the same parent company, but also played well with the increasingly cloud oriented world, much like Red Hat and Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu). In 2014, Attachmate and its subsidiaries were bought out by Microfocus, the biggest tech firm in the UK. They swallowed and digested Attachmate and all of its subsidiaries autonomy and branding, except SUSE.

Microfocus decided to spin out SUSE as in independent company, and is in the process of selling SUSE to EQT, a European holding company that develops various ventures into independent companies then spins them out. SUSE, when ran as an autonomous subsidiary, has been growing impressively, and was sold to EQT for a price equal to $2.5 billion USD, which is larger than the value of the whole of Novell when Attachmate bought it.

Red Hat's loss of independence is indeed a blow, but SUSE after umf-teen years made it out quite well, eventually. But this history has an odd twist - at the dawn of the next decade, it will be SUSE, not Red Hat, that's the wholly independent software vendor.

And Red Hat didn't "sell out" to the worst company - although this is comparing apples and oranges, Oracle shut down/abandoned most of Sun's open source projects, including the Fedora/openSUSE like OpenSolaris, which was the only extant open source continuation of the original Sys V Linux (note that there's OpenIndiana, although it lacks the vigor of OpenSolaris). OpenOffice's developers basically had to run away and make their own LibreOffice. Oracle also threatened mySQL, believe it of not. And of course, they've used the open sourced Java mainly for patent trolling Android, even if Google did take some ethical and slightly legal liberties.

Much of the discussion I see about Red Hat makes no or little discussion of SUSE, which offers a rich case study for the potential fortunes of Red Hat.
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