Novell Drops Proprietary Software From Linux Distributions

Novell ships Suse Linux Enterprise 10 server and desktop under the GNU General Public License, which prohibits Linux distributors from shipping the open-source operating system with proprietary software that hooks to the Linux kernel. Such applications are usually drivers used to run video cards, sound cards, printers or other devices that take commands from the OS.

Among the proprietary desktop drivers Novell dropped from the installation CD it ships with its Linux platform was for a video card that displayed 3D graphics. The decision to ship only open-source software with Linux was to remove any legal issues that would concern enterprise customers, a market Novell is targeting heavily with Linux Enterprise 10.

"We wanted to be consistent, and we wanted to be clean," Justin Steinman, director of product marketing for Novell's Linux distribution, said. "We wanted to make sure that (the product) was as clean as possible for our customers, and they weren't going to be subject to any legal issues that come from installing Suse Linux Enterprise. I don't want to cause my customers any problems."

Rather than include proprietary applications in its Linux platform, Novell has established partnerships with manufacturers of hardware that ships with notebooks and computers used to run Linux, Steinman said. When installing the software, customers will be notified through a pop-up window that a driver is needed and asked whether they want to download it. Clicking yes will send the OS to the vendor's site to install the driver.

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"The end user won't even know (the system) is going outside of Novell," Steinman said.

Novell, based in Waltham, Mass., launched Linux Enterprise 10 at its annual Brainshare conference in March, and made it generally available last month. Rival Red Hat is expected to move its Enterprise Linux 5 Desktop into beta testing within weeks.

Novell's Linux server subscriptions start at $349 per user. Desktop subscriptions cost $50 per device per year, or $125 for three years.