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Novell releases its new openSUSE 11.4 version

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Mar. 11, 2011

Novell is getting ready to release its new openSUSE version 11.4 Enterprise Linux. What's totally new about this new operating system is that users will be able to stay with stable calendar updates or will have the option in getting a rolling release cycle.

Novell's new rolling release option is one that has been in use for quite some time by Gentoo and Arch Linux, among others. With a rolling release, the latest and greatest application updates are delivered to users as they become available.

The rolling release capability in Novell's new openSUSE 11.4 is called "Project Tumbleweed" and for those that embrace it, it could mean the end to big milestone updates from the openSUSE group.

"With Tumbleweed, you can turn openSUSE into a rolling release distribution," says Jos Poortvliet, openSUSE community manager. Poortvliet noted that most Linux distributions including openSUSE, Fedora and Ubuntu have a development tree that tracks upstream projects closely. However, new upstream projects aren't always integrated into the mainline of a project until its release time, an issue that has been around for quite a while now, and one that has upset more than one in the Linux community.

"This simply means that you're always months behind. With a rolling release distribution like Gentoo or Arch, you're never much behind, and that's a great thing if you always need to remain on top of things as they happen," added Poortvliet.

Linux users can select to update more rapidly on their own if they so decide, but Poortvliet noted that it isn't part of the mainline distro repositories. Others also agree with him.

"Tumbleweed basically brings the same thing that Arch and Gentoo have to openSUSE users, so it will be a repository that will have the latest stable version of everything and if you enable it, you won't have to install a new version of openSUSE when it comes out, because you'll already be running it," he added.

Poortvliet say that Tumbleweed and the rolling release concept isn't for everyone, however. For example, those who run openSUSE on a production server may not want a rolling release, which could potentially break application compatibility in new updates.

He added that server users tend to value stability and reliability over running the latest and greatest in package updates, a fact that many agree with.

"The Tumbleweed repository will have a slightly higher chance of breakage than simply running a stable version," Poortvliet said. "I wouldn't recommend it to 'every' openSUSE user, but it is easier than running Gentoo or Arch, nevertheless."

The openSUSE Build Service (OBS) is the key technology that sits behind enabling Tumbleweed for openSUSE 11.4.

Overall, OBS is Novell's system for building Linux packages and is also the platform on which the openSUSE distribution is built on. That's where it all starts.

At shipping time, Novell's new openSUSE 11.4 release will include the 2.6.37 Linux kernel which started in mid-January of this year. Novell's community distro is also the first among the major distributions to include LibreOffice, instead of OpenOffice.org.

Novell is one of the leading contributors to LibreOffice and offers commercial support services as well. Poortvliet noted that package management gets a boost with improvements to the ZYpp system that make it faster to install and update some packages in the distro.

And on the desktop, openSUSE 11.4 has GNOME 2.32, KDE 4.6, Xfce 4.8 and LXDE 0.5 as available desktops. Poortvliet stresses that openSUSE Linux developers have worked hard and diligently on integrating the various desktops into the Linux distro.

Novell's openSUSE 11.4 release is also likely the last version of the distribution before Attachmate completes its $2.2 billion acquisition of Novell. The pending change of ownership at Novell however isn't a concern for Poortvliet.

"For openSUSE, nothing changes really! We're simply an independent community," Poortvliet said. "Attachmate has an effect on Novell on the corporate side but for openSUSE there will be little change."

In other Linux news, in an effort in trying to shield itself from Oracle and Novell, Red Hat has modified the manner in which it distributes its Enterprise Linux kernel code. That change is meant to prevent Oracle and Novell from trying to woo some of its clients, and in the process making it more difficult for these competitors to realize which patches have been applied, when and where in the Linux kernel.

Some observers in the Linux community think that Red Hat's idea is a good one, and that other Linux distributions might do the same in the coming weeks.

Some have even speculated that the change in course is specifically designed to make it harder for Oracle as well as the open source CentOS project to build their own Linux distributions. But others say this is not the case. The change is meant to hamper Oracle and Novell's ability to offer support to customers who are already running Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).

"We are taking steps that make it harder for competitors that wish to provide support services on top of Red Hat Enterprise Linux," said Red Hat chief technology officer Brian Stevens, before naming those competitors. "Today, there are two competitors that I'm aware of that go to our customers directly, offering to support RHEL directly for them-- Oracle and Novell. That's it."

Red Hat is trying to hide information from these competitors that is essential to providing support for RHEL specifically-- and all of that is perfectly understandable from a business standpoint. "What we're trying to impede is competitors that come to our long-time customers who are already running RHEL under subscription from Red Hat and saying 'Don't pay Red Hat anymore, pay us, and don't make any changes to your systems'," Stevens says.

He insists that the change doesn't violate either the letter or the spirit of RHEL's GPL open source license. "We were very careful that what we've done does not impede what our customers need to accomplish or what the community needs to accomplish."

And he says that the change would not really hamper the development of other Linux distributions, not even CentOS, which is Red Hat's perfect sibling.

In November 2010, and with the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, the company made available its Linux kernel with all patches pre-applied. "In the past, we distributed the kernel as a base file and then a set of add-on patches that accompany it. Then when you did a build, the build process automatically applied all those patches to the kernel file," Stevens says.

"Now, we integrate those patch files directly into the kernel. We do the first part of the build process prior to distribution," added Stevens.

"We haven't at all restricted CentOS' ability to take some source code and recompile it and clean-out trademarks and package it. It's just some of the knowledge of the insides that we're hiding," he explains. One longtime CentOS developer agrees. "I won't lose sleep over that," CentOS co-founder Russ Herold said.

And that in fact was recently noticed by Linux kernel-community member and LWN editor Jonathan Corbet, who took issue with the recent change, calling Red Hat's package 'obfuscated' kernel source code... (!)

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"Overall, the distribution of an operating system in this manner should satisfy the GPL community, but it makes life a lot harder for anybody else wanting to see what has been done with the kernel, however" Corbet wrote. "Hopefully it's simply a mistake which will be corrected soon."

But others speculated that the move would undermine not only Oracle's "Unbreakable Linux", but also CentOS. Both are based on RHEL.

CentOS is meant to be a RHEL clone. Whereas the compiled bits of Red Hat Enterprise Linux are only available under a Red Hat paid subscription, CentOS is completely free.

The overall changes will make work harder for distributions such as CentOS, the community-built Linux distribution based on Red Hat's sources, some say. CentOS is built from the RHEL source by a limited number of volunteers and Red Hat's change in policy will mean more work for them unless more volunteers or other companies step in and provide them with assistance.

And we heard similar opinions from an experienced Linux kernel developer. He said that Red Hat's change was like shuffling all the cards in an old fashioned library file system the card you want is still there, but finding it is no easy task and that this would cause issues for CentOS, which is an economic threat to Red Hat.

Source: Novell.

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