Readers of the discussion on LWN.net may have seen comments posted by
Kristopher Magnusson, who happens to be the chair of Novell's "Open Source
Review Board" and the person responsible for managing the company's
relations with the free software community. We had the opportunity to ask
Mr. Magnusson a few questions about Novell's plans with regard to Linux;
his answers appear below. But first, a couple of other Novell-related
- Novell has become
a gold sponsor of the Linux
Professional Institute, and is recommending LPI certification as
part of its own certification program.
- Jack Messman, Novell's CEO, has sent us a
clarification of Novell's view of Linux and the free software
community, and an apology for some remarks in an interview that did
not come out quite right. " Novell wouldn't be spending the
tremendous time, money and resources to make this strategy a reality
if we didn't believe in the present and future of Linux. After
building and enhancing NetWare for 20 years, this is new territory for
us. We simply ask for your patience along the way."
And now, on to the interview.
In the ComputerWorld interview, CEO Jack Messman said "Linux is an immature
operating system right now. It hasn't had somebody like Novell worrying
about making it robust, reliable and scalable for very much time. We think
we can bring that to the Linux kernel." He has since noted that he could
have expressed himself better, and his apologies have been accepted. But
the point remains that Novell sees room for improvement in the Linux
kernel. The kernel developers agree, of course; otherwise they would be
working on something else. Could you explain what improvements Novell would
like to see in the Linux kernel?
First, I want to reiterate that Novell believes the Linux kernel is
quite mature, robust, reliable and scalable as it is today, or else we
wouldn't have decided to use it in NetWare 7. That said, at this point,
Novell currently has no definitive plans to improve the kernel, though
as Jack indicated we will indirectly enhance it by the services that
runs on top. We intend to let the Linux developer community go through
its normal development process and use whatever kernel they develop
Job number one for Novell engineering is to port the services that run
on the operating system. Whether customers are running NetWare 7 on the
Linux kernel or the NetWare kernel, we want to make sure they have
access to the very best services for file, print, storage, directories,
messaging, collaboration, resource management, Web development and many
Which of those (if any) does Novell plan to work on (and contribute
As I stated, we like the Linux kernel as-is, and have no plans at this
point to to develop our own improvements. Novell's focus today is
delivering a number of services above the kernel.
A quick search through the linux-kernel mailing list did not turn up
Novell engineers participating in the discussion - at least, none that
identified themselves as such. Does Novell have engineers working on
Linux kernel, and do they plan to participate in the development
We do have a team of Linux engineers who have joined the Linux-kernel
mailing list and they are reading the Linux-kernel mailing list posts.
My understanding is that they are getting a feel for how the discussions
take place before they actually participate with questions and so
forth--they want to understand the lay of the land before they jump in
The recent announcements mention Novell's contributions to various
source projects, including Apache and OpenLDAP. Can you give a quick
summary of what some of the more important contributions have been?
Novell has been quietly engaging the open source community for a number
of years. For example, our OpenLDAP work has been quietly humming along
for four years. And it's not well known that we've thrown our weight
solidly behind the "AMP (Apache/MySQL/PHP)" platform that's been so
popular on Linux. Because of our AMP work, developers can take AMP code
and move it to NetWare 6.5 pretty much unmodified.
Our Apache work is one of our more important contributions. We have a
strong relationship with the Apache Software Foundation. In the case of
Apache, Novell's lead engineer in charge of porting Apache to NetWare is
a member of the Apache Software Foundation, which gives him code
check-in privileges as well as some degree of control over the general
technical direction of Apache development. Further, Novell has been very
conscientious about contributing our improvements to the Apache codebase
back to the Apache Foundation.
Novell recently formed a relationship with MySQL AB. We licensed a
commercial version of MySQL to ship their database on every NetWare 6.5
CD, and this has been a big hit with our biggest customers. We practice
a kind of open source process between our two companies--Novell
engineers porting MySQL code make improvements that we contribute back
to MySQL AB. These improvements find their way into the GPL version of
the database, which benefits everyone who uses the open source version
Novell also has a relationship with the PHP group that's part of the
Apache Software Foundation. We ported PHP to NetWare as part of our AMP
strategy, and we made a number of improvements to the PHP code that we
contributed to that organization.
Beyond AMP, our relationship with OpenLDAP dates back to 1999, when
Novell was looking for open source C-based libraries for programmatic
access to LDAP directories. We found OpenLDAP's implementation, which
needed some work. We decided to pitch in and help; so we completed the
work for them and contributed our improvements back to OpenLDAP. Next,
we needed a set of Java libraries. OpenLDAP didn't have any, so we wrote
our own and contributed them to OpenLDAP outright under their BSD-based
license. After four years, we still check in Java library code to
OpenLDAP on a weekly basis. Most recently, a few months ago, we
contributed to OpenLDAP a DSMLv2 server written in Java.
So we've been consuming open source software for some time, and have
been contributing our improvements back to each community. It's been a
satisfying process over the years to see our improvements included in
new versions of each piece of software.
Novell has released its UDDI code with a fair amount of fanfare. Can
look forward to other releases of Novell technology in the near
Yes, we will definitely release more technology in the future. In fact,
we have another open source announcement planned for later in the spring
that, like the UDDI server, is related to standards activities. We are
also evaluating which proprietary Novell technologies could be good
candidates for open source release, although we haven't finalized those
If I understand correctly, Netware 7.0 will be able to run on top of
Linux kernel. The thinking seems to be that giving customers the option
move to Linux will make them more inclined to stay with Netware. Is
an accurate summation of Novell's strategy? How will Novell respond if
turns out that most customers would rather run on the Linux kernel?
I think it's only one element of our strategy that the option to move
to Linux will make our customers more inclined to stay with NetWare.
Both versions will be bona fide NetWare 7--whether customers purchase
the version that runs on the Linux kernel or the NetWare kernel, they're
both revenue-generating products for Novell. If it turns out that most
customers would rather run on the Linux kernel, then it would only
validate our decision to move NetWare services to Linux. This is the
same approach that we've taken with other products, like eDirectory,
NetMail, and iFolder.
Taking it one step further...if Netware 7 runs well on the Linux
what reason would Novell have to continue developing and maintaining
own kernel? What advantage does a proprietary kernel give to Novell
it can run Linux and benefit from the reliability and scalability work
being done by IBM, SGI, HP, Red Hat, SuSE, and others?
Novell still has a huge installed base of NetWare customers who depend
on a clear upgrade path to the next version of NetWare running on the
NetWare kernel. That's why we have a dual-kernel strategy--to ensure
that we don't lose customers who want to upgrade to the non-Linux
version of NetWare 7. Besides, Linux and the NetWare kernel are both
excellent pieces of engineering that have benefitted from years of
enhancements and improvements. Many traditional NetWare customers will
want the value of the NetWare kernel.
For customers wanting to run Netware over Linux, will Novell ship a
specific distribution, or will customers be expected to obtain a
distribution from elsewhere?
The answer to this question is in a state of flux. We're not sure yet
exactly how this is going to work yet--please bear with us while we sort
Why is Novell releasing Netware on top of Linux, rather than (or, at
prior to) Windows?
We're going with Linux because our customers are telling us that they
are moving off of Windows and onto Linux. It's as simple as that. Linux
has the momentum and the mindshare and we want to lend our considerable
energy to Linux.
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