SuSE Linux History

[DISCLAIMER : Story came from SuSE Linux 10 Bible by Justin Davies, Rogger Whittaker and William von Haggen, Wiley Publishing inc, Copyright © 2006 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana]

So, you’re a big fans of SuSE Linux ? it’s an interesting history behind your favorite distro :-D.

SUSE is the oldest existing commercial distribution of Linux. The company was founded in 1992 near Nuremberg in Germany. The first release of a Linux distribution by SUSE was early in 1994.

A very frequently asked question is “What does SUSE stand for?” SUSE is a German acronym for Software und System Entwicklung or Software and System Development (not a terribly original or gripping name for a software company). However, the full name is never used; the company has been known as SUSE since the earliest days. More accurately, the company has been known as S.u.S.E., then as SuSE, and now SUSE as the marketing people gradually got to work on the corporate image of the company. In what follows, for simplicity we use the current form, SUSE, at the risk of anachronism.


The company was founded on September 2, 1992. The founders were Roland Dyroff, Thomas Fehr, Burchard Steinbild, and Hubert Mantel, all in their mid-twenties at the time. Three of the founders were still at University studying mathematics: Thomas Fehr had already graduated and was working as a software engineer. The original intention was that the company would do consulting work and software development for clients; according to Hubert Mantel’s account, this did not work out very well as work was in short supply, and after a while the group had the idea of distributing Linux. Initially the company distributed a version of Linux called SLS (Soft Landing Systems). Later they switched to Slackware, producing a German-language version
in cooperation with Slackware’s founder, Patrick Volkerding.

According to the recollections of Bodo Bauer (one of the very earliest SUSE employees), the SUSE people decided that rather than constantly fixing bugs in Slackware before shipping their translated and enhanced version, it would be better to produce their own distribution. They also felt the lack of a good installation and configuration tool in Slackware. The result was that SUSE took Florian LaRoche’s Jurix distribution as a starting point and began to develop YaST. (Florian also joined the SUSE team.)

The first true SUSE distribution was released in May 1996 and was numbered 4.2 (an intentional reference to the use of the number 42 in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams).

At the time that early versions of Red Hat (and Red Hat clones) were ubiquitous in the United States, SUSE Linux gained popularity in Europe. SUSE became a worldwide company with the establishment of offices in the United States (1997) and in the United Kingdom (1999).

SUSE never attempted an IPO, although there were rumors that this would happen at one stage. Instead, the company went through a number of rounds of funding from venture capitalist and industry sources. Over-optimism and too rapid an expansion led to a point in 2001 when the company was forced to downsize significantly to survive. After that time, stricter financial discipline, the release of the enterprise versions, and the growing uptake of Linux by business put the company on a sound footing. With the takeover by Novell in 2003, the investors recouped their investment, while the market’s approval became very clear in the dramatic and sustained rise in Novell’s stock following the announcement.

Originally SUSE provided one product (simply known as S.u.S.E. Linux), which was released about three times a year and was available for the x86 platform only. The current SUSE Professional is the direct descendant of this, and the current version number of 10.0 is one of a series that goes back to the original 4.2. In 2000, the SUSE offering was split into Professional and Personal versions, and versions for other hardware platforms (Alpha, Sparc, and PPC) were released.

The following year, SUSE released the Enterprise Server 7 version, and in due course, versions of Enterprise Server for IA64 (Itanium), PPC (intended for the IBM iSeries and pSeries), S/390, and zSeries were released. SUSE developed powerful tools to aid in the process of porting Linux to other platforms, and there was close collaboration with IBM in the production of versions for the PPC-based iSeries and pSeries and for the S/390 and zSeries mainframes. SUSE also worked with AMD on the development of a version for the Hammer chip (now known as the Opteron and Athlon 64).

The story goes that an entire distribution for this architecture was completed and tested using emulation before AMD had any hardware to offer; when the first machine arrived at SUSE from AMD, the installation CD booted and installed flawlessly. SUSE uses a system known as AutoBuild that takes the same source code for all packages and builds the distribution for all platforms from it. This ensures a high degree of compatibility between versions on different platforms and is one of the key advantages of the SUSE Enterprise Server.

SUSE also released a series of mail server products leading up to the SUSE Linux OpenExchange Server 4, a mail and groupware server allowing integration with popular desktop clients, including Outlook and, hence, becoming a competitor to Microsoft Exchange Server. OpenExchange was developed jointly by SUSE and Netline, who wrote the groupware element. This has now been released as a separate product under the GPL, and can be run on other Linux versions as well as SUSE.

Enterprise Server 7 was succeeded by Enterprise Server 8 (available on x86, IA64, AMD64, iSeries, pSeries, and zSeries) in November 2002.

Prior to the release of Enterprise Server 8 (in November 2002), the UnitedLinux consortium was established, with SUSE, Connectiva, Turbolinux, and SCO as members. UnitedLinux was an agreed core, developed by SUSE for enterprise distributions to be issued by the other vendors in the consortium. Following the defection of SCO from the Linux community and its extraordinary decision to take legal actions against IBM and Linux distributors and users, the UnitedLinux consortium lost its importance and is now only of historical interest.

Enterprise Server 8 was followed by Enterprise Server 9 in August 2004, continuing a pattern of Enterprise releases separated by less than two years. These releases overlap each other in time: the full life cycle of each enterprise release is five years from initial release until the final end of support and maintenance, which means that at any one time there are two fully supported versions of the Enterprise Server, one of which is approaching its end of life. The next version in the Enterprise Server line is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2006.

March 2005 saw the release of the Novell Open Enterprise Server (based on SLES 9), marking the fulfillment of Novell’s intention of integrating its NetWare product with Linux: the Open Enterprise Server makes NetWare’s core functionality a service running on Linux rather than an operating system in itself and provides versions of Novell’s directory services and management software on top of this platform.

In the early days, SUSE appeared to be simply one of a large number of Linux distributions. However, unlike many of the other distributions, SUSE had a developer team of real quality and strength in numbers. This fact was not lost on IBM when they increasingly cooperated with SUSE in development work for their high-end platforms, and it gradually became apparent that there were really only two Linux companies that really mattered—namely, SUSE and Red Hat.

Historically, however, there were some differences between the two companie’s philosophies. Both Red Hat and SUSE provided boxed versions of their consumer version for sale. Red Hat offered ISO images identical to the CDs in the boxed product for download; SUSE did not, but allowed an FTP installation. SUSE somewhat controversially placed a licensing restriction on the redistribution of the YaST installation and administration tool; while the source remained open, it was not permissible to redistribute YaST on media offered for sale. This prevented a proliferation of SUSE clones in the way that there were numerous Linux distributions “based on Red Hat.

Since the takeover of SUSE by Novell, however, the YaST license has been changed to the GPL, and more recently ISO images have been made available by FTP. Both these changes can be seen as signs of Novell’s confidence in SUSE’s leading place in the Linux market.

SUSE made a clearer distinction between the company’s enterprise and consumer versions than Red Hat did. Red Hat was already offering a commercial software maintenance and support system on its boxed product (Red Hat 7.x, 8.x, and so on) when it introduced its enterprise versions (Advanced Server and Enterprise Server). Its subsequent withdrawal of all support for the boxed versions was something of a PR disaster for Red Hat and left many commercial users feeling very dissatisfied and looking for other options. A considerable proportion of these users migrated at that time to SUSE.

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One thought on “SuSE Linux History

  1. A very frequently asked question is “What does SUSE stand for?” Indonesian people said that SuSE stand for "Susyeh", a synonim for linux varians which very difficult to administer .SUSE is a German acronym for Software und System Entwicklung or

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