Novell today is rolling out the newest edition of its flagship enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 11 and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 11. The new releases are the first major updates since the SLES and SLED 10 releases in July of 2006.
Novell's new Linux includes a host of feature improvements including enterprise Mono support (.NET on Linux), high availability enhancements and a streamlined operating system build geared towards appliance vendors.
The new Linux release from Novell, comes on the heels of a new report from IDC showing increasing opportunity for Linux in the current economy and as Novell's marketplace battle with rival Red Hat continues.
Novell generates a large portion of its Linux revenues from Microsoft as a result of a November 2006 deal between the two companies. SLES 11 benefits from the Microsoft partnership and will offer at least one feature that no other enterprise Linux distribution has ever had, support for Microsoft's .NET framework.
The .NET support comes by way of the Novell led Mono effort which to date has only been available on community Linux distributions like Novell's openSUSE and Red Hat's Fedora. Red Hat has told InternetNews.com in the past that it was not interested in including Mono with its Red Hat Enterprise Linux release.
Technically, Novell is calling the .NET support, SUSE Linux Enterprise Mono Extension. It's intended to enable users to run fully supported Microsoft .NET-based applications on Linux.
"It's not more than what is in the community in terms of the actual project," Justin Steinman, Vice President of Solution and Product Marketing at Novell, told InternetNews.com. "Mono is, like many community projects, a fairly fast release project. What we did is applied the same rigor and discipline that we apply with SLES. We used the same q/a (quality assurance) process and same hardening and testing processes to make sure that Mono could handle the most mission critical workloads in the enterprise."
While Mono will be available on the server side with SLES, there are also benefits to desktop users with SLED as well. One of the spinoff projects from Mono is the Moonlight project which is an effort to bring Microsoft's Silverlight media framework to Linux. Moonlight will enable SLED users to legally run Microsoft media codecs on their desktop to view content.
With SLES 11, Novell is also rolling out a new high availability extension which claims to offer flexible policy driven clustering and continuous data replication. On the file system side, Novell is using the OCFSv2 (Oracle Clustered File System), which competes against Red Hat's GFS (Global File System), though both files systems are included in the mainline Linux kernel.
Just Enough Operating System
With SLES 11, Novell is also providing a baseline image so software vendors can easily build appliances. The concept is something know as a JeOS (Just enough Operating System) and has been trumpeted by Novell as the future of operating systems.
"We designed SLES 11 to be ubiquitous, to run in physical, virtual and cloud models," Steinman said.
He added that the appliance model in which a software vendor takes an image of SLES, then installs their application on top, and packages it all together is attractive to many.
Steinman argued that people buy operating systems in order to run applications and one of the barriers of application deployment has sometimes been getting everything to work together. The appliance model is an attempt to solve that issue.
Novell is also working on a tool called SUSE Studio to build the SLES JeOS together with applications. Steinman noted that SUSE Studio will be released sometime in the next few months; the project is currently in an invitation-only beta.
"What we are seeing is the ability for SLES 11 to provide mass customization of Linux," Steinman said.
What missed the cut?
While SLES 11 includes most of the latest and greatest features that the Linux ecosystem has to offer it may be missing one key item from its default installation - the new EXT4 Linux filesystem. EXT4 is the successor to the EXT3 filesystem and offers improved performance characteristics to Linux.
"Our default filesystem is EXT3, we support others and we have EXT4 included as a technology preview," Markus Rex, Senior Vice President of open source platforms at Novell, told InternetNews.com. "At the point in time where we started our lockdown on SLES 11, EXT 4 was not ready. Going forward, EXT4 is a very, very, very interesting filesystem."
On the desktop side, Novell has also elected to stick with the GNOME desktop as the default, though it is offering the rival KDE desktop as an option as well. Novell's openSUSE distribution traditionally has had a higher number of KDE users than GNOME.
"SLED 11 follows SLED 10 in that it has GNOME as default," Rex commented. "We do include KDE as a supported alternative if you decide you want to run it. We also feel we want to address both user groups equally well."
Windows my friend? Or my enemy?
Though Novell has a partnership with Microsoft on interoperability, the vendors are also competitors. With Microsoft's Windows 7 expected later this year on the desktop and Windows Server 2008 already available, Novell's release is coming in between.
"We absolutely see the competition with Microsoft, not so much as Windows 7 comes out, but more as people move off Unix," Steinman said. "We've operated under the hypothesis at Novell, that enterprises are going to standardize on two operating systems Windows and Linux. The winner on Linux will be the ones that deliver the best interoperability with Microsoft."
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.