LINUXWORLD - Novell, Red Hat ready for OS battle

Von Robert McMillan

Linux distributors upgrade open source servers Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc. will ratchet up their one-on-one competition in the Linux operating system wars next month when each company delivers significant upgrades to their respective server-based products.

At the annual LinuxWorld conference in Boston next month, Novell plans to announce its Open Enterprise Server, which company officials hope will be instrumental in gently pushing its NetWare users over to Linux.

The server combines versions of both NetWare and Novell"s Enterprise Linux Server 9, along with a number of services including file, print, management, and collaboration that can be delivered across the environments. Novell will announce the product"s pricing and availability at the show, according to company officials.

Also at LinuxWorld, Red Hat will announce plans to release its long-awaited Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, the first version by Red Hat to contain Version 2.6 of the Linux kernel. Company officials, however, declined to say whether the product would be ready for release at that time.

The new version reportedly contains a rewrite of the Linux I/O subsystem -- the part of the operating system that oversees the transfer of data among components -- along with an improved version of the Logical Volume Manager hard drive partitioning software.

Enterprise Linux 4 will also contain security features taken from the U.S. National Security Agency"s Security Enhanced Linux project. It will also feature improved device and power management capabilities.

Novell officials believes the bundled applications and services in OES, which also contains the Linux 2.6 kernel, is what will make it more attractive to corporate buyers.

"To compare the products based on just the (2.6) kernel would be only half the story. Both companies are moving beyond base Linux distributions. With OES we have all these services around the core product like the directory and enhanced support for printing and remote access," said Charlie Ungashick, Novell"s director of product management and marketing.

Some analysts agree that at this particular stage, solutions matter more than pure technology at the kernel level.

"The game isn"t necessarily just about what version of the kernel you are on. As you start to look at moving Linux up-market you need to be concerned about the other services and applications that accompany the operating system and that make it more applicable for enterprise workloads," said Al Gillen, research director of system software at IDC.

Since its availability in late December, corporate and third-party developers have downloaded more than 5,000 copies of OES, including 150 Novell global accounts, Ungashick said.

Offering a road map for its server products Ungashick said Novell plans to deliver a new client for Linux around mid-2005, a version of OES for AMD and Intel"s 64-bit chips in September of this year, Version 10 of the SuSE Enterprise Linux Server in February 2006, and the follow-on to OES, code-named Cypress, by August of 2006.

Separately, Red Hat is planning to release Version 2.0 of its Java-based Application Server (RHAS) by the middle of the year, according to an engineer with the company. The company will add several enhancements for enterprise users along with, it hopes, certification for Sun Microsystems" J2EE 1.4 specification.

Some of the enhancements to Version 2.0 include improved scalability and clustering through a choice of Red Hat"s own clustering suite or ObjectWeb"s C-JDBC (Clustered JDBC) software, said Patrick Macdonald, the engineering manager for RHAS, who spoke at the ObjectWeb conference in Lyon, France, last week.

It will also include tools for configuring multiple instances of the application server simultaneously and tighter integration with Red Hat"s developer tools and with those of Eclipse. Version 2 will also offer remote monitoring; currently, Red Hat can provide monitoring for BEA Systems" application server but not for its own, Macdonald said.

Significantly for Red Hat, it hopes to base RHAS 2.0 on an upcoming release of JOnAS that will be certified under the J2EE 1.4 specification. Market leaders BEA Systems Inc. and IBM Corp., as well as open source rival JBoss Inc., are all already 1.4 certified, and some enterprises see it as a checklist item when making a buying decision.

(The IDG News Service contributed to this story)