SUSE Product Strategy Explained

Updated 2005-10-15

Internet discussions frequently include confusion and controversy over whether it's lawful to duplicate and redistribute, or to "borrow", Novell/SUSE's Linux distribution. Many commentators are unaware of SUSE's diverse editions. Others think reflexively (and in error) that any Linux distribution is required to be freely redistributable (as being "under the GPL" or something). Still others know that a downloadable SUSE exists, and conclude that any SUSE must be.

Thirteen Novell/SUSE "editions" (packagings) have existed, over the years. Some editions don't exist for non-i386 [/x86-64] architectures.

Novell, Inc. / SUSE Linux AG grant limited redistribution rights to the first five only — whereas online controversies always centre around the latter eight. Details follow.

SUSE Linux Evaluation Edition. (Discontinued. Final i386 version = 7.0)

This is/was a single-CD installable image, now discontinued but still available at some sites, e.g., and . Through version 9.1, SUSE Linux AG restricted redistribution rights via its copyright over the SUSE-produced YaST/YaST2 installer/configuration programs: The company forbade redistribution "for value"[1] of those components — whatever that means — but otherwise allows copying/redistribution. (As of SUSE Linux 9.2, the company's new owner, Novell Corporation, has made YaST open source under the GNU GPL.)

Other than that, the image contains as much of the usual mix of open-source[2] and proprietary[3] programs as will fit on one CD — but none of the latter have restrictions on redistribution.

The now-discontinued Evaluation Edition was always several versions behind the others — and there's no technical support. These drawbacks were, of course, intended to motivate you to upgrade onto (and thus to purchase) the retail boxed sets.

SUSE Linux Personal-CD Edition. (Discontinued. Final i386/x86-64 version = 9.1)

This is the downloadable 2004 successor to Evaluation Edition, and all remarks about Evaluation Edition apply to it, except for the bit about being several versions out of date.

Personal-CD Edition is a single-disc subset of the Personal Edition boxed set, and includes only redistributable proprietary and open-source components. (Given the ongoing lack of updates by 2005-09, it may be discontinued.)

SUSE Linux Retail Live DVD (formerly Professional Live DVD, formerly Live-Eval) Edition. (Current i386 & x86-64 versions = 10.0)

This is the other single-disc version. The word "live" means that it runs live from the CD or DVD only (i.e., as a demo): It cannot install to your hard drive. Probably no longer redistributable as of 10.0 (on account of probable inclusion of Adobe Acrobat Reader, RealNetworks RealPlayer, Sun Java Runtime Environment, and Macromedia Flash Player). Not even limited technical support as of 10.0.

In v. 9.2, four images were available: a KDE CD, a GNOME CD, a LiveDVD sporting both desktop environments, and a LiveCD-Audio edition featuring sound-playing and recording apps.

As of v. 9.3, Professional Live edition went DVD-only, merging all of the preceding variant subpackagings: You download either an i386 or an x86-64 disc image.

As of v. 10.0, the image went i386-only.

SUSE Linux Ftp Edition. (Current i386/x86-64 version = 10.0)

This is NOT a collection of CD-ROM ISOs. It's literally the 3-4 GB current-release tree on the ftp site, e.g., — installable via ftp off the Internet. Unlike with the Evaluation Edition, you get current versions, but without the convenience of local CD media — and without the retail boxed-set editions' non-redistributable "extras" (see below), and without technical support. Those drawbacks are intended to motivate you to buy retail boxed sets.

2005 update: As of version 9.2, Ftp Edition is also offered in a downloadable DVD image (but still not as CD images).

The former file (present prior to 9.2) clarified that Ftp Edition comprises all Professional Edition packages except those whose licences forbid redistribution.

SUSE Linux AG's corporate policy prior to version 10.0 was to make Ftp Edition available about four weeks after the matching retail boxed-set versions (discussed below) ship. Starting version 10.0, Ftp Edition has become a constantly available public development project.

2005-10 update: As of version 10.0, Ftp Edition (to the extent it still exists) is the RPM trees of the OSS Edition at, which serve as the development base platform for all other versions.

SUSE Linux OSS Edition. (Current i386/x86-64/PPC version = 10.0)

This is a variant on Retail Edition (formerly called Professional Edition), differing from it in omitting its non-redistributable packages. It is available as five (freely redistributable) CD images.

SUSE Linux Personal Edition. (Discontinued: Replaced by Novell Linux Desktop. Final i386/x86-64 version = 9.1)

This was a SUSE edition on 4-5 CD-ROMs or a DVD, adding non-redistributable proprietary software[4], sold in a shrink-wrapped retail box with a support contract and printed documentation. Sometimes, you will find ISO images someone has published: That's copyright violation, and illegal.

(Note that the above analysis does NOT claim that SUSE Linux AG prohibits anyone from redistributing the CDs' individual codebases whose licences so permit — nor does it claim that SUSE Linux AG refuses to provide source code under the GNU GPL. I've had to add this paragraph after a really dumb flamewar on a Linux mailing list, where someone claimed I'd said the contrary. Yes, I do mean you, George.)

SUSE Linux Retail Edition. (Current i386/x86-64 version = 10.0)

This edition, formerly called Professional Edition, is very similar to the Personal Edition, except with a larger array of both redistributable (mostly server-role) and non-redistributable[5] software, on about 5 CD-ROMs or a DVD. Starting with release 10.0, the full Retail Edition images were available from SUSE authorised download sites. Those probably technically cannot be lawfully posted for download elsewhere, because of certain restrictively licensed packages.

SUSE Linux Eval Edition. (Current i386/x86-64 version = 10.0)

Near as I can tell, this edition, introduced with version 10.0, is probably exactly (or maybe nearly exactly) the same as Retail Edition, except that it's downloadable from authorised sites while Retail Edition is retail boxed-set only and doesn't come with a printed manual and bundled support. (Support is available for Eval, a la carte.) Non-redistributable packages include Adobe Acrobat Reader, RealNetworks RealPlayer, Sun Java Runtime Environment, and Macromedia Flash Player.

SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) Edition. (Current i386/x86-64 version = 9)

This is a very stable, business-tweaked edition on 2-3 CD-ROMs, with an included enterprise-level maintenance and support contract, along with a few extras such as a tool for remote custom-configured installations (AutoYaST). It implements the UnitedLinux system architecture, in which SUSE Linux AG takes a leading engineering role.

SLES as of v. 9 includes at lest one non-redistributable package: Novell ZENworks for Linux. (Anyhow, companies obviously buy it almost entirely for the support/maintenance commitment, available only with the boxed set.)

SUSE Linux Standard Server (SLSS) Edition. (Discontinued. Final i386 version = 8)

This was a departmental mail, Web, print, file, and DNS server bundle with graphical configuaration/administration tools (probably Webmin), and a long support/maintenance commitment, as with SLES.

I can't tell whether SLSS includes any non-redistributable components.

Novell Linux Point of Service. (Current i386 version = 9)

This is a pared-down SUSE Linux Enterprise Server customised for use on point-of-sale retail terminals. Includes Novell ZENworks. It was originally named SUSE Linux Retail Solution, but was renamed and rebranded in 2005.

Novell Open Enterprise Server. (Current i386 version = 9)

This product bundles SUSE Linux Enterprise Server with a Novell NetWare engine running on top of it. It's scheduled to ship in early 2005.

Novell Linux Desktop (formerly SUSE Linux Desktop Edition). (Current i386 version = 9)

This seems to be a pared-down "corporate" desktop subset of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server on two CDs, and adding Novell ZENworks software, some Novell enhancements to, some Agfa fonts, Novell GroupWise and GroupWise Messenger, and various other Novell additions and tweaks.

The product was the direct replacement for SUSE Linux Desktop Edition, which was discontinued after 9.2. Novell Linux Desktop, being based on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, isn't exactly the same: SUSE Linux Desktop edition was a variant of Personal Edition, likewise occupying 5 CDs. However, the earlier product was likewise aimed at the corporate desktop, adding Codeweaver's Crossover Office for support of many Win32 apps (such as Lotus Notes and Novell Groupwise clients, MS-Office, etc.).

[1] Language to that effect (allowing distribution of the Evaluation, Live-Eval, Personal-CD, and Ftp Editions as long as it isn't "for value"), with specific reference to the copyright over SUSE's YaST/YaST2 installer/configuration software, used to be in the README files in . With SUSE Linux AG's recent (2002-3) discontinuing of the Evaluation Edition, this language has been replaced: The Live CD (formerly Live-Eval) Edition is said to be "for demonstration and evaluation purposes" (which may or may not be a licensing statement), and people are explicitly welcomed to carry out "non-commercial" redistribution of downloadable ISOs and the Ftp Edition. (Starting with SUSE Linux releases after 9.2, YaST has been converted to open source under the GNU GPL.)

[2] The term "open source" is conventionally defined by the Open Source Definition (OSD), . Although otherwise diverse, OSD-compliant licences (broadly speaking) share the trait of guaranteeing any recipient rights sufficient to take over maintenance of the covered software (which in open source jargon is called "the right to fork" that codebase). That's the central concept; the OSD attempts to formalise what licensing traits must be present for that characterisation to apply.

[3] "Proprietary" in the software context means anything that isn't open source: It's thus intended as a rhetoric-neutral descriptive category, and should not be seen as pejorative. Some proprietary software licences allow (restricted) access to program source code and/or redistribution rights; others do not. (Please note that ability to receive a copy of a package free of charge in no way suffices to render it open source.)

[4] List of packages was formerly at (Can probably be re-found at the Internet Archive, if needed.) Regrettably, SUSE Linux AG doesn't make it easy to figure out what specific licensing terms pertain to each package, but, in theory, this list of all included packages would be one starting point in gleaning that information.

As of SuSE Linux 9.1, packages that are not licensed for public redistribution include (at a minimum):

Adobe Acroread
Opera Web browser
Real Networks RealPlayer8

[5] List of packages: As of SuSE Linux 9.1, packages that are not licensed for public redistribution include (at a minimum) the same four as in Personal Edition:

Adobe Acroread
Opera Web browser
Real Networks RealPlayer8

On September 24, 2004, I (finally) confirmed from direct inspection that those packages' terms, in fact, explicitly forbid redistribution by the public.

Disclaimers: I do not speak for SUSE Linux AG, Novell Corporation, or anyone else but myself. I am not an attorney; this document is not legal advice. I try to keep this document correct to the best of my knowledge, but have no inside sources of information.