Novell is set to make it easier for independent software vendors (ISVs) to create appliances by simplifying the company's SuSE Linux operating system.

"Part of the problem with rich operating systems is that there are too many features. In the appliance form factor, you want to remove some of the choices. That way it has more turn key capability," said Jeff Jaffe, Novell's chief technology officer, speaking at the company's Brainshare conference.

Software appliances bundle applications such as an ERP suite or database with an operating system that is optimised for that application, thereby minimising the set-up time and maintenance costs.

The move is a natural extension for Novell, Jaffe argued. The company last year announced an imaging tool that allowed independent software vendors (ISVs) to save and copy a certain configuration of the operating system. The image tools is a "good start," but more work needs to be done, said Jaffe.

Appliances are just one of the areas of interest for SuSE Linux Enterprise 11, which will form the foundation of the SuSE Linux enterprise desktop and server products. Other areas include improved support for Unix to Linux migrations, green IT and further development of the Linux desktop.

Novell's open-source competitor, Red Hat made its own first forays into the appliance space in May 2007 through a partnership with database vendor Sybase. In November it announced an official programme that allowed independent software vendors to create appliances based on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system.

Red Hat opted to minimise customisations, arguing that customisations would undermine the value of Red Hat's testing and certifications, which would essentially create a fork in the operating system.

"We think they are wrong," said Jaffe when asked about the difference between Red Hat's and Novell's approaches to customisation. "We think that it is possible to be able to configure simpler versions of the broader distribution without breaking certification." He added that he would do so by maintaining the key application programming interfaces (APIs).

"There is a balance between having more flexibility and not breaking certification."

Enterprises will be less attracted to appliances, argues Jaffe. The lack of settings and customisation will mostly appeal to small and medium-size businesses or branch offices where users are less interested in knowing which operating system runs their applications.

"If you look at large IT firms and you see how well-developed and integrated their structure is, it will be a long time before appliances are going to meet those needs. They want the knobs, they want to tune the capabilities. Everything that is taken away in an appliance is what they love to play with."

To illustrate the appeal of appliances to small and medium-size businesses, Jaffe pointed at a partnership that Novell and SAP launched earlier this month. The two companies have created an appliance that bundles SuSE with SAP's All-in-One software, which targets firms with 10 to 100 employees; the companies have already said that they are going to expand on that alliance.