Novell Wednesday announced a new pricing model for its SuSE Enterprise Linux operating system that allows customers to pay a flat rate for Linux support.The new support offerings give Novell's customers an alternative to its existing per-system support contracts, and could make life a little easier for Linux users who have been critical of the per-system and per-processor support offerings of Novell and its rival Red Hat.Users have complained that the two companies' support licensing plans violate the open source spirit of Linux because they do not allow customers to make additional copies of Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server or Red Hat's Enterprise Linux without paying additional support fees, and because they allow for software audits that can involve hefty penalties.While Novell's licensing will still require customers to pay between $100 and $919 per server per year for what the company calls "upgrade protection" - a service that includes automatic bug fixes, product upgrades and security patches - it will no longer force customers to purchase support contracts for each new server they add."You're still obligated to pay for upgrade protection, but you don't have to have a separate support contract for every one of the systems you add in," Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry said.Customers will be able to purchase a 10-incident Small Business Linux Support package from Novell for $3,800 per year, which will cover technical support for Suse Linux, Red Carpet, the OpenExchange Server, and the Ximian desktop and Evolution Connector for Microsoft Exchange software. Additional five-incident support packs will cost $1,900.Novell will also support its Linux products with its Novell Premium Support service, which the company already offers to users of its proprietary software. Novell Premium Support pricing starts at $5,800 per year.Novell's move to decouple its upgrade and service fees will give Linux users a little more flexibility, said Gary Hein, a senior analyst with industry research firm The Burton Group. "It's a little more practical and more realistic model," he said. "Essentially they are going away from requiring a separate media kit for every single Suse server."Novell will continue to offer its traditional per-server support contracts for Suse Linux. They will be priced at $900 per year per server for Intel-based systems.The new support offerings are available immediately, Lowry said.