Sometimes, the universe forces the minds of many in the same direction. This must be one of those times. For me, it started the other day when I wrote about Verizon and the fact that someone in the major press (that is under the age of 30 or has no notion of history) called Verizon Big Red.

As I stated then, the time was when someone said Big Red, they either meant the cinnamon gum or Novell, but nothing else.

Today, Christopher Dawson, sometime columnist from ZDNet, has stated what I was thinking about above. Why doesn’t IBM purchase Novell? It seems like a fit made in heaven, and would give IBM a way back into the personal computing market, in more than the peripheral way it has now, with the Symphony project.

I have always thought that the selling of the PC division to Lenovo was a bit hasty, and now, with the advent of 8 core Xeon processors from Intel, and 12 core processors from AMD, not to forget IBM’s own Power chips, the demise of Big Iron is ever accelerating. More than that, if IBM wanted to get out of PC hardware, there was really no reason to get out of PC software.

Now, with the patent hullabaloo over, and the real Unix patents belonging to Novell, what better time, since yesterday is already gone, to purchase Novell?

Mr Dawson states –

I actually started pondering this a few days before the Novell-SCO ruling on Tuesday clearly put Novell in an important position as a “[defender of] Linux on the intellectual property front.” Why, you ask, would a Googley Edu blogger be thinking about major players in the enterprise Linux market? Because I can see an open source showdown in the making here, the beneficiaries of which will be consumers, SMBs, enterprises, and educational institutions. I don’t get the feeling the showdown will be any fun, though, if Novell is left to its own devices.

First, a bit of background. A few days ago, I fired up Ubuntu 10.04 Beta 1 on a netbook and haven’t looked back. This immediately became my desktop OS of choice and is running happily both on the netbook and in a VM on a server I’m using to test various VDI implementations. I needed to set up a backup web server and start testing Moodle integration with Joomla, so I figured I’d take the beta of 10.04 Server for a spin. At the same time, I fired up OpenSUSE 11.2 on another machine since a community-supported educational project (Li-F-E) might have made the Moodle testing a bit easier.

Both did what I needed them to. They both worked quite well, in fact. Like most things in computer-land, the differences in the distros themselves were largely religious and not terribly relevant here. What is relevant is that, although Moodle is included on the Li-F-E DVD, I had a functioning Moodle instance running within minutes on the Ubuntu server. A quick Google search for “Moodle on Ubuntu” sent me to a concise walkthrough and I was good to go. The install base, massive software repositories, and regular release cycles just seem to make Ubuntu more attractive all around.

Why is Ubuntu so darned easy? And can a perfectly nice OS like OpenSUSE (and the enterprise desktop and server products it feeds at Novell) compete with a well-documented, sexy distro like Ubuntu? The answer to the latter question at least is yes, but only with the right support.

I emailed a friend who was close to Novell and OpenSUSE and asked him a similar question. It’s pretty clear that Novell isn’t providing the sorts of resources that OpenSUSE needs to compete with Ubuntu when Mark Shuttleworth is so happy to dump his own cash into the company. It’s also clear that SUSE Linux, in its community-driven form as well as its enterprise incarnations, contains a lot of great technology. Not only does the SCO-Novell verdict affirm that, but many within the company and OpenSUSE community (my friend included) suggested that the “under-the-hood” contributions to creating a stable, scalable, enterprise-class distribution were enough to make the distro competitive.

Wait a minute…Highly scalable? Enterprise-class? Why that sounds like a nice match for the IBM brand, doesn’t it? IBM is committed to open source at a lot of levels, but lacks its own Linux distribution that would function well in virtualized environments or on SMB servers (thus, their partnership with Canonical to create the Smart Work Client). IBM also has the resources to support, rebrand, and promote a community project like OpenSUSE and get the enterprise SUSE desktop and server products to a point where they are competitive with Ubuntu, not only under-the-hood, but also in terms of polish and innovation.

We all know that competition improves the breed. Money is no slouch at getting things done, as well. IBM can provide both, in massive amounts. We must remember that this is the company that developed OS/2, which was, at the time of its last development (not the time of its later demise) far ahead of anything Microsoft had with Windows NT, and likely could have crushed Microsoft’s Windows, making it an also ran, if IBM had had the will to spend the money.

Now imagine that kind of talent and money applied to what I believe is the best distribution of Linux already – SuSE Linux. This is not my sole opinion, for those that talk about getting things done speak highly of the product. Novel has done well with it, but has been like a radioactive isotope on its last half-life; it is running out of energy, and time is passing.

Before the SuSE and Open SuSE development comes to a grinding halt, IBM needs to buy it, and infuse some cash, some new ideas, and some new blood, to get things on the right track again.

We’ve all seen, at last for the last 3 years, predictions of the upcoming year being the “Year of Linux”, and the Microsoft fan boys sit back, laughing and pointing to the numbers. Mark Shuttleworth has put millions into Ubuntu, but think of how much more IBM could put into SuSE, and turn it into the stuff that people will want to use, because it is attractive, it works, and it is backed bywait for it IBM. Those in a position to know will state that the Workplace Shell was a much better design for the user than anything Microsoft has ever come up with – think of how great a Workplace Shell on top of a real Unix would be!

Beyond that, IBM could market, for the big clients, IBM Unix. That’s a name to get the blood flowing. In the world of computing that is a name that could be compared to another unit of universal comparison, the U.S. dollar.


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