% fortune -ae paul murphy

The biggest mystery in the history of Linux

I think it's safe to predict that future historians looking at the history of Linux will spend a lot of time muttering about the events preceeding, surrounding, and flowing from, Novell's purchase of SuSe in late 2003. Personally I'd very much like to understand what happened but I don't have the information needed to reach any conclusion -and if you do, I'd appreciate an email.

There's some stuff we do know. Just prior to the sale, SuSe was the leading distribution, arguably in terms of technology and certainly in terms of positive press both in Europe and North America. IBM had its cities initiative in full court press right across Europe with Munich as its PR star (mainly because of Ballmer's disasterous attempt to read the riot act to its city council) and significant successes either nailed down or within reach in Austria, Germany, France, and possibly Denmark.

At the time, however, the biggest plum at hand seemed to be Daimler-Chrysler with a lot of serious people predicting a worldwide desktop win for the IBM/SuSe combination.

Those rumors died within weeks of the announcement that IBM had put $50 million into Novell without apparent reason and Novell had bought SuSe at a firesale price.

Today SuSe's key people have left or are leaving, the Daimler-Chrysler deal is off the front burner, IBM is facing layoffs across Europe, and the cities initiative, although continuing, appears to have lost momentum.

So what happened? Does anyone know? Are these things related or is the timing coincidental?

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.