Chameleon Prints

Chameleon Prints

Article from Issue 168/2014

British mainframe vendor and COBOL titan Micro Focus just announced a plan to purchase Attachmate. We get press announcements of mergers and buyouts all the time, but this one caught my eye.

Dear Linux Pro Reader,

British mainframe vendor and COBOL titan Micro Focus just announced a plan to purchase Attachmate. We get press announcements of mergers and buyouts all the time, but this one caught my eye. Attachmate was famous back in the old days for making terminal emulator software, then they dropped out of the headlines for a few years, when terminal emulation dropped out the headlines, but they bubbled along behind the scenes, building a quiet empire through acquisitions of management tool vendors such as NetIQ and OnDemand Software.

Attachmate stepped into the foreground again – at least for the FOSS world – in 2010 when they purchased corporate network giant Novell. Novell had a mixed record with the open source community; on one hand, their patent-fraught cross-licensing agreement with Microsoft struck a raw nerve for many of the Linux faithful. On the other hand, they stepped up big time to support Linux in the SCO suit. But one reason why Linux watchers spent so much time watching Novell was that Novell happened to be the owners of SUSE Linux.

SUSE was a really big deal in the evolution of early Linux. The company was founded in Germany in 1992 (only a year after the birth of Linux), and it quickly became the first real enterprise Linux company, providing software for big corporate contracts in Germany and throughout Europe. You might say SUSE, with its famous green chameleon logo, was for Germany what Red Hat became for the US. Early issues of this magazine had full-page ads from SUSE Linux ad campaigns, as the company sought to position itself at the nexus of the geek world with the corporate universe.

Novell's purchase of SUSE in 2003 was the end of an era. Novell was rapidly losing market share to Microsoft, and they needed a whole operating system to replace or augment the kernel-less NetWare behemoth. SUSE played the role well, morphing into the distros we now know as SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED). The SUSE community tradition lives on with the openSUSE project, which is still popular with users and still appears on the occasional DVD attached to this magazine.

Yet another corporate buyout with SUSE in the shopping cart is occasion to reflect on a proud history and to ask what might be in store for the most resilient and adaptable SUSE chameleon. Micro Focus has built a business around helping companies rebuild and reuse their existing technologies (hence the emphasis on mainframes and COBOL). They have come far with this concept, and certainly someone needs to be in this niche, but they are eventually going to run out of clients as older systems gradually go offline. The company works with other tools too, such the CORBA middleware environment, but they have a big need to diversify to stay relevant, and the Attachmate portfolio of networking and management tools will offer many options to potential customers.

Anchoring the whole operation will be the SUSE Linux distributions, which will allow Micro Focus to offer standalone solutions that aren't dependent on the whims and competing priorities of other OS vendors. An extra bonus, which received little mention in the press releases, is the SUSE Cloud infrastructure, an OpenStack-based local cloud system that will give Micro Focus a big first step on catching up with the cloud revolution.

SUSE Linux has survived many years and many trials, and I wish them well with this latest adventure. Like Linux itself, SUSE has grown from a curiosity, to a phenomenon, to a sensation, to a fundamental part of the IT landscape that isn't always in the spotlight but is very definitely here to stay.

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