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Novell lands full-time staff on openSUSE

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The openSUSE project, which creates the development version of Novell's SUSE Linux, is getting a handful of full-time Novell developers.

You might find it hard to believe that there were not already full-time staffers dedicated to openSUSE, given the importance of Linux to Novell's future. But apparently, this has been the case since Novell formalized and opened up the openSUSE project four years ago.

According to an announcement to openSUSE contributors, Roland Haidl, director of operations and communities for Novell's Open Platform Solutions group, now has a team of ten people dedicated to openSUSE exclusively, and the way Novell has been doing openSUSE work - get to it when you can after doing your other Novell work - is a thing of the past.

Klass Frietag has been tapped to lead Novell's openSUSE team (Haidl is just the boss) and Henne Vogelsang will be openSUSE project manager. Stephan Kulow will continue to be the release manager for openSUSE 11.2, as he has been doing. The other key players remain a mystery, and there will be lots of employees within Novell who contribute to the openSUSE project on a part-time basis.

How many remains a subject of some speculation. Back in February, when Novell was cutting around 100 employees from the payroll as part of yet another restructuring, the word on the street was that a more than was fair proportion of employees who were cut also had responsibilities for the openSUSE project. And this upset members of the openSUSE project and called into question Novell's commitment to openSUSE.

It is not clear how many Novellers contribute to openSUSE, but even 10 employees out of the 3,900-strong workforce at the company seems like a pretty small number. Particularly when Novell is up against Red Hat in the commercial Linux racket and the company is trying to get its SUSE Linux business to profitability. According to the openSUSE site, it has 8,623 users and 330 members. Last November, when Fedora 10 was launched, Red Hat was bragging that it had more than 17,000 contributors to its Fedora development Linux, including over 600 Fedora ambassadors. Even before Red Hat opened up Fedora and made it easier to join and contribute in late 2007, the project had around 1,900 people contributing, most of them from inside Red Hat.

The ability of openSUSE to deliver a Linux that is competitive, feature for feature, with the Red Hat stack is the issue, and while openSUSE and SUSE Linux are well regarded and have their positions of strength in the operating system space (particularly with SUSE Linux in the supercomputer space), it would seem that Novell would have dozens of people dedicated to making openSUSE the best development distro possible and then feed that into a SUSE Linux that sets the pace in virtualization, system management, and the number of applications supported. (Novell claims to have more certified applications for SUSE Linux than Red Hat Enterprise Linux has, and if the numbers are true, that is another possible strength).

But the simple fact is, Red Hat is making money on Linux - and most of its money from Linux - and Novell's Linux biz is a fraction of Red Hat's size and not making money. Novell has just finished up its fiscal third quarter at the end of July, but has not yet presented its results to Wall Street for that quarter. But in its fiscal Q2 ended in April, Dana Russell, Novell's chief financial officer, said that it would take 12 to 18 months for SUSE Linux to be a profitable business for Novell. This was the first time that Novell admitted that its Linux business was under water. ®

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