AHEAD OF THE CURVE: The irrepressible catalyst

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: The irrepressible catalyst

Recent weeks have been filled with marvellous news from Advanced Micro Devices, Apple, Novell, Sun, Transmeta, and countless others.

These developments should fill the atmosphere with excitement and anticipation, making the recovery not only obvious but thrilling. Journalists view these events through their jaundiced telescopes, finding ways to suck the life and colour out of all that happens below the level of HP, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft. It’s a pity that so few of my colleagues seem to enjoy their work anymore. I’ve never had a better time.

It’s at times like these, when fascinating things go largely unnoticed, that I welcome what I call the irrepressible catalyst. It’s an explosion that makes you stop what you’re doing and turn your head because you know something significant just happened. I’ve been hearing those noises so often that I can scarcely sleep. I missed them so much that I don’t mind.

Novell’s acquisition of commercial Linux leader, SUSE Linux, has the potential to consolidate the server software market and create a company with the scale, vision, and brainpower needed to get us to the next stage of enterprise computing. All sides are skeptical. The Linux camp has seen this before. It doesn’t want more major corporations spending a few million bucks to add a penguin to their coat of arms. On the other side, Novell is regarded by many as a skeleton of its once-mighty self, too weak to go after Microsoft.

Both sides miss the point. Novell isn’t trying to save Linux. Even if Novell is acquiring SUSE just to make some money, it’s a smart move. But looking past that motive, look at what Novell and Linux bring to each other. Linux is a mature, pain­stakingly peer-reviewed, state-of-the-art operating system with a massive library of software. There is no better or more stable platform for development — and later, for deployment — of Novell’s technology. For reasons too numerous to detail here, Novell is an ideal commercial Linux player. Novell will pour money into Linux development, which is badly needed, and it is creating a conduit through which others, including IBM, can do the same without getting named in lawsuits. Novell will give customers branded service, training, and support that make Linux seem less risky. But most importantly, Novell will attract and co-ordinate third-party commercial software development to Linux. When you read that last sentence, you’ll hear a “pop” in the distance.

At the recent Comdex conference, Sun CEO, Scott McNealy, announced a close alliance with AMD. Sun will produce Opteron systems and equip them to run Linux or a 64-bit edition of Solaris.

McNealy should have been on AMD’s stage for the Opteron launch back in April.

Sun needs AMD, both as a hedge against Sparc’s decline and as a safe alternative to Intel at the low end of its product line. It should have hoisted the Sun and Solaris brand flags over Opteron the day it was launched. Instead, Microsoft stole the launch event by saying nothing about a version of Windows that didn’t exist. I rank that as one of Sun’s most damaging missed opportunities. The cannon fired late, but it’s still got a fine report. Another pop.

AMD has broken ground on a new chip fabrication facility in Dresden, Germany, that will cost $US2.4 billion and employ 1000 people. The building of this facility, which goes on-line in 2006, may dampen speculation that AMD is running aground or is dependent on IBM. Pop. I might mention, too, that SUSE was the primary engineering contributor to the Opteron edition of Linux.

I think it’s going to get very noisy around here, very soon. Bang!

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