Novell plays in open source space

Novell's move to cough up $US210 million cash to buy Germany-based Linux vendor SuSE has put the words “Novell” and “excitement” back in the same sentence for analysts such as IDC’s Dan Kusnetzky.

For me, a witness of Novell’s various “reinvention and extension” acquisitions of the past, the potential for excitement is there, but in the same book, not in the same sentence.

The announcements of a planned acquisition counts for diddly-squat. Quite a few open source and product integration sub-plots need to play out for Novell as it executes this and other initiatives over the next couple of years. If it gets it right, the company will once again be a force in the software industry.

Novell did not need “the whole Linux” stack including the kernel in order to make its various enterprise infrastructure services available on Linux. As demonstrated in April at a BrainShare user conference, customers were shown a Linux migration path for their NetWare services.

At that time Novell announced that NetWare 7 (possibly due in 18 months) will be a set of services sitting on top of both the NetWare and Linux kernels. Soon after, in June, the company announced that Nterprise Linux Services (due year end 2003) and consisting of Novell’s file, print, messaging, directory, and management services would be available and tailored to run on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server distributions of Linux.

In August came the acquisition of Ximian, a driver behind the Gnome project to create a Linux-based desktop, and Mono, software that allows applications developed under Microsoft’s .Net to run on Linux and Unix.

Reportedly, Novell officials hope the Ximian buy will help it reach a goal of adding a full-featured Linux desktop to its line-up of groupware and systems management products. Novell has gone after the desktop before, but when Microsoft was dominant and not omnipotent.

Related news is that IBM will now invest $US50 million in Novell to extend commercial agreements between IBM and SuSe for the continued support of SuSe Linux on IBM’s eServer and middleware products. That money can’t hurt.

What the SuSe acquisition does do is lift confidence in Novell’s long-term viability and nudge the perception of the company towards one that is unshackling itself from its proprietary NetWare history and hooking into open source growth markets.

This surely must make IT managers running lots of NetWare servers and services more comfortable and relaxed. The acquisition could be enough to stem the tide away from NetWare (down to a measly 10 per cent market share) and possibly lure new customers enticed by the promise of enterprise class infrastructure services on Linux.

I certainly hope they succeed.

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