Stone on why Novell picked SuSE

Chris Stone, Novell's vice chairman, spoke Tuesday with Computerworld about the strategy behind his company's plan to acquire SUSE Linux AG, and why Novell chose SUSE instead of Red Hat. Excerpts from the interview follow:

Q: How did the idea to acquire SUSE germinate?

In April at BrainShare is when we made the first announcement that NetWare services were going to go basically on top of Linux. We wanted to learn how the open-source community actually works. We didn't want to be the big, bad enterprise company that dove into it.

We had been working with SUSE for quite some time. But we decided strategically that we really needed to provide the entire stack. So it was about two months ago that we really decided to go for it. They weren't out grocery shopping. We really decided this is what we wanted to do, and we went after it.

Q: Did you consider Red Hat as well?

Sure, we looked at everything. The two largest were Red Hat and SUSE, and then we looked at the others -- there are a good 35 Linux OSs out there. Obviously, Red Hat was a bit pricey, so we decided we had the best fit -- economically, peoplewise, culturally -- with SUSE. They think like we do; they work like we do. They're very technically competent. So it was a really natural fit.

Q: When you say Red Hat was a bit pricey, does that mean there were negotiations that got to the point of naming a price?

No, we decided that SUSE was who we wanted to acquire. We made a decision early on that SUSE was where we wanted to go. There was always an effort on the part of Novell to have a relationship in some form with Red Hat. We tried to form a support agreement with Red Hat, and that didn't work. It worked beautifully with SUSE.

Q: I'd really like to clarify to what extent you had acquisition discussions with Red Hat as well.

I'm not going to go there.

Q: What does this mean for running NetWare on Red Hat Enterprise Linux?

We still do that. We still certify the NetWare services on Red Hat 3.0 as well as on SUSE. Obviously, now that we own the (SUSE Linux) distribution, we have to potentially rethink that, but as of right now, our customers have been asking for both. There's no technical reason that we shouldn't provide at least an option if you want to run it on Red Hat. But we're obviously going to lead with SUSE.

Q: So your advice to users running NetWare on Red Hat is to move to SUSE?

Sure. You can have one-stop shopping from Novell. You can buy the entire stack, support -- you name it, you got it.

Q: Does this acquisition in any way change your plan to make NetWare a set of services running on top of both the NetWare and Linux operating system kernels?

Does it shift the balance more toward Linux? It fills the missing piece. We've been talking about this for a long period of time. People usually come back and say, "Wait a second here. You don't have a Linux OS." Well, now we do.

There will always be NetWare -- we'll continue building services on NetWare. There will be a NetWare 7.0. There will be identical services on both platforms -- no change.

Q: Don't you see this as a risky move at all, in light of the legal actions SCO has taken with respect to Linux?

No, not at all. We think the SCO move is pretty much an unsubstantiated claim. They've never been able to prove anything they've been talking about. Our customers have not balked at this issue. I don't believe SUSE has any particular issues with SCO. As far as we're concerned, it hasn't been an issue.

Q: Will SUSE continue to operate as a separate entity?

SUSE will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Novell. (Current SUSE CEO) Richard Seibt will be the CEO and general manager and work for (Novell CEO) Jack (Messman). Engineering and product development will be focused with me. (SUSE) will be a business unit of Novell. The sales forces will be integrated with both our (Europe, Middle East and Africa) sales force and our North America sales force. We have an integration plan in place; that will take some time.

Q: So Seibt has confirmed that he's staying?

He certainly has. He's a happy camper.

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