openSUSE considers independence from SUSE

SUSE partners Microsoft

The community is considering separating openSUSE from SUSE, with a primary focus on the openSUSE project’s greater autonomy in its governance and interaction with the wider community. This issue has been discussed in openSUSE for more than two months and is growing, and both SUSE and the openSUSE community have their own views on independent openSUSE issues.

SUSE partners Microsoft

Richard Brown, chairman of openSUSE, pointed out that independence means more legal autonomy for openSUSE, while independent forms are available in a variety of models, one like the Document Foundation, which supports the LibreOffice suite, and the other Choose to join an organization like Software in the Public Interest, which is an umbrella sponsor for some open source projects, including Debian. Richard also said that the combination of the two models is also feasible.

SUSE has changed hands many times over the past decade:

  • In 2004, SUSE was acquired by Novell
  • In 2010, Attachmate acquired Novell 
  • In 2014, Micro Focus acquired the Attachmate Group
  • In 2018, Attachmate sold Suse Linux’s business to EQT, which was approved by Micro Focus shareholders and regulators. The transaction was completed in March this year.

Such frequent changes in ownership have made the community more worried. Although SUSE has publicly affirmed its commitment to openSUSE and said it will continue to support operations, it is likely to change. “On the other hand given EQT’s business model it is almost certain that at some point in the future SUSE will be sold again or publicly listed, and given the current good working relationship between SUSE and openSUSE it is likely easier to have such discussions now vs in the future should someone buy SUSE and install new management that doesn’t value openSUSE in the same way the current management does,” said Simon Lees, board member of openSUSE.

In more depth, OpenSUSE has multiple stakeholders, but it does not currently have its own independent legal entity, which makes the actual situation of having multiple sponsors quite complicated. Richard explained that under the current arrangement, openSUSE handles finance directly. The ability to donate is a key challenge. In some cases, sponsors only do things themselves to help openSUSE, with little or no formal agreement.

Another point, when it comes to the contribution of hardware and services, even if an organization wants to donate infrastructure to openSUSE, it also becomes complicated because openSUSE has no legal entity to take ownership of the hardware infrastructure. Contributions can point to SUSE, but this has its own complexity.

Another key issue is related to the product level. Richard pointed out that the SUSE products between the community and SUSE are not always working effectively. There are some inconsistencies in the process, which makes it shake the ability of SUSE to always the beliefs in doing the right thing. Currently, regarding the openSUSE stand-alone governance model, Richard does not agree with the model like Fedora and Red Hat. Fedora is a community Linux distribution supported by Red Hat, which has limited autonomy.

The governance and operational model of openSUSE will be discussed further at the annual openSUSE board meeting.