Many NetWare users have expressed the desire to get their hands on SuSE Linux in anticipation of the release of Open Enterprise Server later this year. SuSE Enterprise Server 8 and Novell Nterprise Linux Services 1.0 will form the basis of that release (or, at least, newer versions of those two products will).

But SuSE has never been freely downloadable, unlike many other Linux distributions such as Debian, Fedora, and more, so there's been a bit of a quandary for loyal Novell users. Should you buy SuSE because that's what Novell will offer even if you can't justify the expense for something you want to play with, or should you download and install a free version of Linux, such as Fedora, which can work (although unsupported) with Nterprise Linux Services?

If you've subscribed to an in-force maintenance or upgrade protection agreement with Novell, you can now get SuSE Enterprise Server 8 and Novell Nterprise Linux Services 1.0 at no charge, then upgrade to Open Enterprise Server when it ships this autumn. Qualifying customers can download the software from the Novell Web site now.

The use of the software is restricted to the terms of your existing Novell licence agreements, including supported number of users, applications or workloads (depending on the product, of course). Those NetWare customers without maintenance or upgrade protection are not eligible to participate, but if they enter into a maintenance or upgrade protection agreement with Novell, they can immediately take advantage of this promotional offer.

You know that Open Enterprise Server is coming later this year, so why not get upgrade protection now? This will allow you to familiarise yourself with both Novell's Linux as well as how NetWare services will run on top of it. Check the various upgrade protection and maintenance agreements.

The annual, rather than the full-term, agreement may well be your most cost-effective choice at this point since you know an upgrade to NetWare 6.5 is due out this year. The company has begun to organise product pages for the new operating system in order to whet your appetite but actually running NetWare services on a Linux platform could do more appetite-whetting than reading spec sheets and white papers.

If you've got an in-place upgrade protection or maintenance agreement, this is a no-brainer - start downloading now. For the rest of you, compare the cost of upgrade protection to the cost of SuSE Enterprise Server 8 and Novell Nterprise Linux Services 1.0 as well as the potential cost of Open Enterprise Server (probably similar to the licensing prices for NetWare 6.5). You're going to spend the money eventually, anyway. You might as well get all the benefit you can from that expense.