Several irate readers asked The VAR Guy to defend Novell after they spotted a blog entry on Linux Planet titled, "SUSE Linux Enterprise Server -- the Pointless Linux?" Of course, The VAR Guy doesn't play favorites. He doesn't care whether Red Hat or Novell lead the Linux race. But our resident blogger can't remain silent. A partner ecosystem without Novell and SUSE Linux is somewhat dangerous to imagine. Here's why.

Consider the situation at IBM. Big Blue purposely backs Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novell SUSE Linux. Why? Because IBM does NOT want the modern day Linux world to resemble the Windows world we all lived in during the 1990s.

When Microsoft had a lock on the desktop and started throwing its weight around the server, hardware companies were at the mercy of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. Remember: The VAR Guy was a big fan of Windows NT, and he continues to recommend Small Business Server. But Microsoft's monopolistic practices in the 1990s were scary.

The New Red Scare?

Fast forward to the present day, and Red Hat could become dangerously dominant without healthy competition from Canonical's Ubuntu distribution and Novell's SUSE Linux. To be sure, Red Hat remains innovative and channel friendly -- driving more and more Linux and JBoss middleware sales through partners. And The VAR Guy doesn't sense any arrogance from Red Hat.

But remember: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Without Novell providing checks and balances, Red Hat could either (A) grow arrogant or (B) grow lazy. When either of those two items happen, innovation stalls or prices rise -- or both.

The Microsoft Connection

Meanwhile, some folks still allege that Novell is nothing more than a propped up company controlled by Microsoft.

Yes, Novell is a flawed company in many respects. Too many legacy products. Too many point products that don't add up to complete solutions. Too many years moving away from the channel (though that's starting to change...).

The VAR Guy wasn't a big fan of the Microsoft-Novell deal when it happened. But there again, remember: IBM was working with Novell long before the Microsoft-Novell relationship came along.

And in meeting after meeting, IBM insiders say they gain leverage and flexibility in the Linux market by supporting both Red Hat and Novell. That's why Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and other industry heavyweights also support both Red Hat and Novell.

Microsoft may buy SUSE Linux licenses -- but that doesn't buy Novell any ISV and hardware partner support. Novell has earned that support by developing a Linux distribution that many customers demand.

So go ahead, Linux Planet: Ask the world "What's the Point of Novell SUSE Linux?" Readers already have the answer, because they understand how fierce competition drives innovation and lower prices.

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