The future of the stand-alone operating system is not particularly bright. At least, that's according to Nat Friedman, chief technology and strategy officer for open source at Novell, which yesterday officially announced the company's entry into the Linux appliance space.
Novell's effort, the SUSE Appliance Program, aims to provide independent software vendors (ISVs) with an appliance-friendly version of Novell's SUSE Linux, so they can create integrated software appliances.
The move follows similar pushes by rPath Linux and Red Hat to deliver software appliances based on Linux, angling for a share of a market that IDC predicts could be worth as much as $700 million by 2011.
"The basic concept here is that the standalone operating system is dead," Friedman told InternetNews.com. "The days in which people buy operating systems on their own and then build a stack from there ... will look like home-built automobiles in the future -- people aren't going to do this anymore."
In a model like that of the SUSE Appliance Program, the operating system is already built and configured for the application running on top of it. The result can then be easily deployed onto physical hardware or a virtual image, making it easier for ISVs to use as the backbone of their own appliance offerings.
With its program, Novell will be joining an increasingly competitive field. Startup rPath Linux, which is helmed by former Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) staffers, has been the groundbreaker in the market, debuting its appliance offering two years ago. Red Hat itself in November announced its own appliance strategy as well.
With startups like rPath already established in the space, Novell is banking that it has another way of appealing to ISVs.
"I think a challenge some of the startups have is they don't have an enterprise operating system to offer to ISVs," Friedman said. "We have an enterprise operating system with a huge ecosystem, with a history and track record of support. When we talk to ISVs, they want someone they can count on."
Friedman, however, shied away from painting the SUSE Appliance offering as battle between Novell and other Linux vendors.
"The big story here is Linux versus Windows," he said. "I do not believe that Microsoft has shown the interest, time and the will to allow an ISV to embed their operating system and intermediate between Microsoft and the customer."
Friedman added that Linux in already looming large in the appliance space because of its favorable licensing model for vendors.
However, Novell has not yet mapped out its own pricing plan. Friedman said it aims to first figure out what kind of appliance lifecycle support ISVs need before determining how to begin tiered pricing.
"These are all early announcements, and there will be a series of continuing announcements from us," he said. "I meant what I said: The standalone operating system is dead and we really see the future of the server operating system as being embedded in appliances, so you'll see more from us on this topic."
As part of its new program, Novell is also unveiling its Just Enough Operating System (or JeOS, pronounced "Juice") -- a stripped down version of the as-yet-unreleased SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 10 Service Pack 2.
JeOS is based on an early version of the SLES 10 SP2, using only components required to boot the system, Friedman said. That bare-bones version is then made available as a VMware image and a Xen image, either of which can be used as the basis for an appliance.
Friedman added that the approach should make creating a SUSE Appliance as easy as booting up the JeOS image, loading in the application and then taking a snapshot to create a re-distributable software appliance.
Despite its earlier rhetoric, Novell also said it would be taking advantage of its interoperability agreement with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) to ensure that the SUSE Appliance will be able to run on Microsoft's Hyper-V.
"We can run Windows on top of Xen," he said. "That's part of our agreement with Microsoft to do the technical interoperability to make that happen. We're also the only Linux platform that Microsoft certifies to run as a guest on top of Hyper-V."
Friedman said Novell's primary focus is on helping ISVs -- and not about limiting itself to certain hypervisor flavors.
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.