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Attachmate: Novell's openSUSE project is 'safe'

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Attachmate says that Novell's openSUSE project will continue to operate as it always has.

With Attachmate shelling out $2.2bn acquire Novell, SUSE Linux customers and contributors to the openSUSE project are understandably nervous about what Attachmate is planning for the community development that underpins SUSE Linux.

In wake of the deal being announced yesterday, openSUSE community member Pascal Bleser, whose day job is being a software engineer at Atos Worldline in Germany building Java applications for telcos and banks and who created the Guru package system used in openSUSE, blogged about the deal, basically saying he knew no more about it than the rest of the world.

"What does that mean for the openSUSE Project?" Bleser asked rhetorically. "We don't know exactly yet because our crystal ball is currently in the shop and therefore fortune-telling is not our greatest talent ;-) However, we have other talents: we are a software developer community and we’re here to work on one of the greatest GNU/Linux distributions and other world class software distribution tools to advance Free and Open Source software together with the global FOSS community!"

Bleser took a jab at the intellectual property transfer that is part of the Attachmate deal, which will see Attachmate transfer intellectual property to a Microsoft-backed consortium called CPTN Holdings LLC for $450m. Because of the $1bn in cash and this $450m of money from the sale of intellectual property, Attachmate is paying only $706.6m to get ahold of Novell. And, Microsoft is getting its mitts on stuff that might have helped make the Linux community safe from litigious companies like, er, Microsoft.

"Our hope is that this does not add to the minefield that software patents are today for Free and Open Source software developers, Bleser wrote. "The openSUSE Board generally believes, like the rest of the global FOSS community, that software patents impede innovation and are inconsistent with Open Source and Free Software."

Yes, but software patents are conducive to making money - something that Attachmate and the three private equity firms that own it (Francisco Partners, Golden Gate Capital, and Thoma Bravo) are very keen on.

Attachmate figured out that the openSUSE community would be jumpy when the deal was announced, particularly after Oracle's freezing out of the OpenSolaris community in the wake of the acquisition of Sun Microsystems in January and its death by asphyxiation in August. Oracle doesn't want or need people from outside its firewall coding Solaris, but with the revival of the Solaris Express development distribution, the company is returning to Sun's old roots and is happy to have customers use the early Express version and put it through the paces to provide feedback. Solaris remains open source, but only after the commercial Solaris releases ship.

The word from on high at Attachmate is that there are no changes planned to the way the future free-standing SUSE Linux business that will operate under the Attachmate umbrella interfaces with the openSUSE community to create successive versions of that development Linux. The openSUSE distribution, which is freely distributed in binary and source form, is the foundation of the commercially supported SUSE Linux distros for PCs and servers.

"The openSUSE project is an important part of the SUSE business," explained Jeff Hawn, chairman and chief executive officer at Attachmate, in a statement to calm down the openSUSE community. "As noted in the agreement announced today, Attachmate plans to operate SUSE as a stand-alone business unit after the transaction closes. If this transaction closes, then after closing, Attachmate Corporation anticipates no change to the relationship between the SUSE business and the openSUSE project as a result of this transaction."

Keeping the relationship the same does not necessarily mean that the Attachmate-controlled SUSE Linux business will have the same number of full-time and part-time employees dedicated to the openSUSE project. Back in August 2009, Novell put ten employees onto the openSUSE project on a full-time basis, the first time it had done this since launching the openSUSE effort in December 2005 to imitate the Fedora Project community that feeds into Red Hat's Enterprise Linux commercial distro. OpenSUSE 10.1 was the first community-driven release, and today the project has 461 members contributing code and 12,999 users as of the most recent openSUSE 11.3 release.

Novell acquired SUSE Linux in November 2003 for $210m and did its own development of the open source Linux variant for two years before opening up and creating the community to help get some help in the coding for free. Attachmate will no doubt like to have as much free help in making SUSE Linux as it can get.

As for the intellectual property that Microsoft has cleverly gotten its hands on, according to an 8-K filing that Novell did with the Securities and Exchange Commission after the deal was announced, CPTN Holdings Microsoft is getting right, title, and interest in 882 patents controlled by Novell. The filing did not specify what Novell patents Attachmate would sell off or what percentage of the Novell patent portfolio it represented. Novell had not yet responded to a request for clarification on the content of these 882 patents at press time.

The filing did say that Attachmate gets $60m if Novell kills the deal and Novell gets $120m if Attachmate backs out. ®

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