SuSE, Ubuntu, And Linspire/Freespire- Understanding Your Market

If I had a magic wand, I would take Novell’s resources and Ubuntu’s (Canonical) vision and see the birth of a single Linux product. Each entity has half of it right and the other half of it totally wrong. Novell understands the needs of the enterprise situation while Ubuntu has the DPKG system for software. I am sorry SuSE fans, but RPMs are like bad seafood – great until you end up with a rotten serving. Every instance of SuSE I have ever used up to 10.1 has been great until you want to install updates. Continuing on…

Ubuntu, while a fun distro, leaves Canonical clueless as to why it’s still not making any real money. It’s not the product – Ubuntu is fantastic choice for those who understand what it is and isn’t. But Canonical still fails to understand the enterprise market for the desktop does, indeed, belong to Novell and Red Hat. Both of these companies have spent tons of time and cold hard cash investigating shortcomings that they might be able to offer some relief with. Competing distros are simply not in a viable position to enter the enterprise market at this stage in the game. Call it a lack of resources and the yet-to-become-apparent business savvy. At the end of the day, the numbers of enterprise users using Novell and Red Hat speak for themselves.

On the flip side of this, Ubuntu has mopped the floor with otherwise decent distros such as Linspire/Freespire within the home user market. To be fair, Linspire did succeeded in making the bundling of open and proprietary software palatable even to a cynic such as myself. It’s just too bad that it has a record of not taking care of a consistently crashing sound system within its Linux offering.

All right, so how does all of this really break down? It comes down to this: Ubuntu is sharing the home desktop market equally with OpenSuSE. Linspire/Freespire is hardly a blip on the radar any longer, so it remains more of a niche within a market. Ubuntu and OpenSuSE rule the desktop domain with Fedora tagging along very closely.

Red Hat and SuSE (SLED 10) are masters of the enterprise desktop Linux realm. I have watched Ubuntu and Mandriva try and make some headway here, but Mandriva simply does not have the wow-factor that it once did. As for Ubuntu, well, it is still trying to define where it fits into the enterprise market at this point.

What’s interesting is the constant here with Novell and Red Hat. Both entities have open properties that they support within the desktop realm, whereas Ubuntu only offers its version of a non-commercial product.

What does this mean? In order for Ubuntu to be taken seriously within the enterprise realm, it will need Canonical to bite the bullet and take the Red Hat/SLED 10 approach to providing the enterprise user what they need. Granted, the support that Canonical is offering is great. But it will need a commercial grade Linux product to back this up. It’s as simple as that.

So will this happen or is this already happening? To the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe so. If I am wrong, please fill me in on any details that I may have missed in the comments area above.

[tags]Canonical,Ubuntu,SuSE,Novell,Red Hat[/tags]

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  • IT_Amateur

    Well said, Matt Hartley. If I could borrow your wand for a moment, I’d use it to transport all the Linux gurus to some remote island, and not let them go until they have invented a proper OS “underworks” which can easily install and run whatever software I (speaking as Joe Public) want. I don’t want to have to learn how to “make” and “make install” and all that stuff. I want to click on “install” and have it install, then run it and have it work. Other self-styled “operating systems” can do it – and can allow you to use, say, Litestep or Window Blinds to customise your interface and _still_ work.

    I love the Linux model, where everything is freely available and you only pay to hire a professional to do stuff you can’t understand yourself – or can’t sort out on a forum. But until there’s – well, let’s call it a Standard Operating System, to make a nice advertising acronym, the whole Linux market is going to remain Balkanised, and Redmond will be laughing at it, all the way to the bank.

    Get Your Act Together, Linux Community! I want to be able to pick, say, Red Hat’s or Novell’s security software, Ubuntu’s easy installation, somebody else’s nifty audio restoration program or whatever, and have them work together on my hardware. I don’t want to have to learn all sorts of neat system-specific command line tricks before I can even attempt to install them (and then fail)!

    Let’s hope “this year’s offering” from the commercial sector turns out as badly as it deserves to. Perhaps that would be the kick up the *ss the Linux fraternity needs to stop bickering amongst themselves and make us a nice standard OS which (thanks, Ubuntu) “just works”. I sincerely hope so.

  • Marsolin

    I agree that Ubuntu’s biggest advantage is it’s packaging system (inherited from Debian). It’s my first requirement in considering any distro.


  • Roy Schestowitz

    I think there’s a struggle of perceptions here. While some people get backstabbed by greedy vendors (some claim that Red Hat has become of them) they will not escape to the same predatory corporation that’s got its arms open. Community-based develpment is symbiotic with community-based support. It’s perception that will evolve.

  • Matt Hartley


    You have some fair points except for the software installs. You realize this has been solved for years, right? While there are still some limited number of bozos who still offer tarballs, more often than not there is another way to find the software.

    Ubuntu and Linspire have the simplest software installs on the planet. Seriously, in Ubuntu, goto add/remove and add a checkbox – software installed. Linspire, click the green CNR button and then do so again to install software. No EULAs, nothing to confuse. I would recommend taking Linux Mint for a test drive. It’s based on Ubuntu and works very well.

    Any software not found in Add/Remove can be downloaded from Just click, download and install – no compiling here.

    Outside of this, some software will come inside of what appears to be a tarball. This is just another type of zipped file. Open it up and you will find that there may be an sh file. This is an installer. Open up a command like and use the cd command to change directories.
    Now just follow the cut and paste instructions. It’s a bit of a pain, but in the long run it is so worth it, believe me. 😉

  • Matt Hartley


    You have a point. Although I believe that Novell wins the prize this last year with kissing Microsoft’s butt. Even Red Hat cannot match the level of selling out that Novell has nailed on here.

  • IT_Amateur


    Sorry, I must have given the wrong impression. I DO know how easy it is to install in Ubuntu – they (or Debian!) have cracked that one-time problem very nicely. My main point is that until Joe Public can mess about in Linux as easily as he can mess about in W*nd*ws, he’s going to keep paying for the monstrous bloatware just because it makes it so easy for him. And a lot of people are going to keep writing for it, for much the same reason – it’s a known, if despised, platform.

    When the Linux fraternity have got a common Unixoid underworks, I want to see those easy Ubuntu installs become the standard for installation. I want to see drag’n’drop working properly across the board (or desktop). Dammit, I want _one_system_ (to rule them all?), rather than all these almost-compatible groups each doing much the same thing slightly differently from everybody else.

    Good grief, if you could get Apple, Unix etc. onside, the Standard Operating System would really become a force. As I said, though, perhaps poor old J. Public will start looking around once some automaton in Redmond has switched off his expensive new video card just because somebody in Russia has successfully hacked one to breach the DRM rules … come on, penguins, get ready to welcome him with some really easy-to-use, straightforward software that won’t do things like that!

    Oh, and somebody register that name (S.O.S.) for our side before one of the other lot sees it.

    Cordial regards, Steve

  • Matt Hartley


    I agree with you and as a matter of fact, KDE/GNOME stuff is beginning to do this already. After years finding that it is making more work than I care to admit, there are efforts to try and make a third desktop environment a standard – period.

    Here’s the rub. Unfortunately, because pretty much anyone can apply their ideas to the model, it becomes increasingly difficult to nail this turkey down. And in many ways, I believe it will take a firm hand in cooperation between the “community,” corporations, and people who are tired of spinning – such as ourselves – working together.

    Believe me when I say that your blog posts are read by the right people. Whether or not they choose to make this happen quickly is unlikely, however. The frustrations that Linux desktops such as KDE and GNOME – along with the various distros – bring are both a source of confusion and salvation.

    Confusion because nothing ever seems to do the same thing twice. Salvation as it gives us wow-factor tools like Compiz and Beryl.

    Speaking for myself, I am tired of waiting for others to make things happen. As a matter of fact, I am working to make some inroads myself for the Linux cause. But like everything, it takes time. And that is yet another frustration to add to the list.

  • IT_Amateur


    Yes, it’s the “anyone can apply their ideas to the model” aspect which is both the strength and the weakness of Linux. Strength in that it makes it infinitely customisable, and weakness in that you can safely bet that the next box you try to use will work differently from the last!

    Actually, I put a comment here in the _hope_ that the right people might read it … I am quite a techie myself (having built (or “built”) all my computers starting with Scamps and a Nascom (2MHz Z80 / 1k mem / about 5 dozen TTL chips on a big PCB!). My problem with setting myself “free” has always been just the fact that I’d have to spend as long familiarising myself with a pretty-much-unique-to-me OS as using the machine, whereas with the bloatware model I just download, say, Spectrum Lab, plug in my leads and I’m using it. (And, I hate to have to admit, there are some beautiful bits of free (cashwise) software for W32, Spectrum Lab ( being a fine example. I hope the Wine crew are concentrating on stuff like soundcards!)

    As it happens, I shall be joining the community “officially” when I next upgrade, whatever happens. I am NOT having the monstrous Vista switching bits of my hardware – or the whole OS!! – off. Period. As you can gather, I expect the damn box to work when I turn it on!

    Good luck with making things happen – just so long as you don’t end up inventing yet another minority Linux thread, of course. We really do need some sort of overall co-ordination. There are so many good things about Linux, and I don’t just mean that it’s free (as you can imagine, I simply assume the free model myself, having worked all my life in scientific environments where co-operation is the norm.) All those excellent bits of software, all that networking power … yet, like Britain and America, “separated by a common language”!

    All best,


  • Matt Hartley

    Yeah, I hear ya. I really do and I am working on an eBook that is designed to take the BS out of all of this. From start to finish, complete with live links, task by task chapters and most importantly, for the Windows user mindset. The only command line is cut and paste and even then, it’s one time only for some limit needs.

    I have already nailed wifi cards dead-on, all-in-ones, parental software, Yahoo and MSN webcam/Mic ready applications and more on the way. This is my new OS of choice, and I have nailed down just about everything I need to make this work and work well for everyone. I am almost there…

    On a bright note however, I just solved the lack of Shockwave in Linux issue. Enable all of those Ubuntu repositories, install WINE from Synaptic. Then download Firefox for Windows, then Shockwave. It’s so obvious, I don’t know why I did not think of it before. :)

    At any rate Steve, I am in this with the mind of a Windows user. I am pissing off a number of Linux people off left and right along the way and that suits me just fine. As things stand now, you have a friend to help anyway he can when you are ready to upgrade. Just think ASUS/ABIT board, NVIDIA card and self-built system, the rest is not so bad. 😉 I’ll be waiting for ya.

  • IT_Amateur

    I’ll see ya there!

    Just to prove my weirdo status, my favourite programming language is Forth … hey, why don’t we start developing a new OS from the ground up? …


  • Alan

    I’m new to Linux so I have a question. Your story is about how Novell and Red Hat have a commercial grade Linux product but Ubuntu does not.

    But what specifically do you mean by “commercial grade”? What features do Novell and Red Hat have that Ubuntu does not?

    Thank you.

  • Matt Hartley

    Hi Allan,

    Basically dual monitor GUI support for one thing. In addition to other in-house concepts that may be proprietary to their companies. Also, the target of Enterprise usage when offering specific features within their distro: VPN, syncing pdas to a specific server, etc.