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Novell moved Wednesday to underscore its support for free software development after volunteer technical support for rival Red Hat's free Linux version collapsed.

Novell spokesman Kevan Barney said the downfall of Red Hat's Fedora Legacy Project only strengthens Novell's commitment to its own partnership with open-source, or free, software developers worldwide.

"What has happened with Fedora does not affect what we are doing with our Open Systems Project," he said. "We have over 30,000 registered members. The project is doing quite well."

Novell offers its own Suse Linux product line, but it differs from a companion, free-to-download Open Suse version only in the level of technical support and the stability required for each generation of retail editions.

Novell, which moved its headquarters from Utah to Waltham, Mass., in 2004 but still has a work force of about 1,600 in the state, benefits from using the Open Systems project as both a foundation and product testing ground; in return, open-source developers gain access to new Linux code and applications, while offering the public a free alternative to the predominant Windows operating system.

"Three weeks ago Open Suse 10.2 was released for free download. It's doing very well," Barney said. "Our experience with the open-source community has been great these past few years, and we will strive to continue that."

Statistics back up Novell's contention. In the past month, Open Suse supplanted Ubuntu as the No. 1 choice, according to the download access-tracking Web site. Fedora? It fell to No. 3.

Fedora Legacy officials blamed a lack of contributions from outside programmers, and anemic funding from the corporate sector. quoted Fedora Legacy organizer Jesse Keating said it had become a matter of "take, take, take and no give."

Red Hat cut its individual user Linux product loose in 2003, consigning it to a newly formed Fedora Project. Although it continued to offer long-term support for its corporate-level Red Hat Enterprise Linux offering, Fedora's support was essentially turned over to its open-source enthusiasts.

Fedora Legacy arose as the free-software community's effort to maintain support for the free version indefinitely. That experiment ended with the new year, probably not helped by parent Red Hat's decision to extend its short-term backing for Fedora from nine months to 13 months.

That change meant Fedora users could typically count on support through every second release, because new distributions of the free OS have come out on average about every six to eight months.

"A good question [is] whether this is an exception to the open source [model] or whether there has been a change in how open source support is [being] organized," said Amy Wohl, a computer industry analyst and writer based in Merion Station, Pa.