Novell insists this isn't the end of NetWare.
However, NetWare 6.5 will indeed be the last operating system that customers can buy under that brand name. And Novell's next-generation operating system - Open Enterprise Server (OES), which includes NetWare and Linux kernels - will represent a radical departure from the NetWare that has been an industry staple for 20 years.
Customers and industry watchers interviewed this week at the company's annual BrainShare conference generally applauded Novell's latest move to embrace Linux. They said the company's strategy would increase the chances that customers will transition toward the company's Linux products rather than jump ship to Microsoft.
"What Novell is doing makes a lot of sense," says Al Gillen, research director of system software at IDC. "I don't see (the name change) as a negative. Customers need to have a pathway to move ahead. OES will give Novell customers more confidence that their deployments are safe."
OES will consist of a new NetWare kernel and the SuSe Enterprise Linux kernel, with services such as Novell's file, print, directory and management services layered on top.
Novell says renaming its flagship operating system was a difficult decision.
"NetWare as a brand is generally positive to the people who use it, and it's sort of middle of the scale to people who don't know us, sometimes negative, sometimes positive," says Chris Stone, Novell's vice chairman, office of the CEO. "It's still a big part of our revenue - it keeps the lights on." NetWare accounts for 29 percent of the company's revenue.
As for customers, they say that Novell's strategy of using Linux and now OES as a migration tool gives them an out for what many might see as a dated operating system.
"We are a long-time Novell NetWare user," says Anthony Hill, CTO for Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "We are doing major technology overhauls across the board and were faced with staying with NetWare, which has become more of an island over time, or moving to Windows, which does not solve any of our goals.
"For me, I'm a bit neutral on (OES) because at the end of the day what I really want is a Linux-based platform," Hill says. "My goal is to get off NetWare, not because there are any inherent issues with it, but more from a consolidation point of view." Hill uses Novell's Nterprise Linux Services 1.0, GroupWise, ZENworks and eDirectory.
"What I am looking forward to from Novell is real leadership in the Linux and open source space," says Dale Llewellyn, manager of global information services for SPX.
"Novell is the largest Linux vendor and is really in a leadership position to influence that or break it apart if they chose to specialize and take Linux their way." Llewellyn uses Nterprise Linux Services on Red Hat Linux, eDirectory and ZENworks, and is migrating away from NetWare 5.1.
Users say that part of Linux's appeal is its support from large systems vendors such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Oracle and now Novell. To boost Novell's Linux initiative, HP announced this week that it would factory-install Novell's SuSe Linux on its desktop machines. IBM also announced this week that it would offer SuSe Linux on all of its servers. Dell has also said it will support the Linux distribution.
"It was when the major vendors started supporting Linux that it became a real viable option to bet our enterprise on," Hill says. "Before Novell announced their Nterprise Linux (Services), we were taking a hard look at which way to go. Did we stay on NetWare? Did we move to Windows, to Linux or Solaris? What is good about open source is that a vendor the size of Novell is putting their proven management tools on top of what's now a proven open source operating system."
Novell's new initiatives and acquisitions are part of a broader Linux revolution that is putting pressure on Microsoft.
New licensing requirements have angered many customers and encouraged them to look for alternatives. However, a study by The Yankee Group shows the cost of migrating from Windows to Linux is three to four times as much as upgrading from one Windows version to another.
Customers who have migrated from NetWare to Novell's first iteration of Linux, Nterprise Linux Services, have not found this to be true of Linux.
"The support and maintenance cost of Linux is much less than a Unix or proprietary Windows-based platform," says Duwayne Anderson, vice president of information services and technology for general contractor Manhattan Construction in Houston. "SuSe Linux is going to save us approximately 7 percent in annual maintenance and support costs year over year, which will reduce our initial acquisition cost by 40 percent.
"The implications of not implementing Novell's SuSe would have been higher annual cost, higher initial acquisition cost and lock-in to a single proprietary solution," Anderson says. "That was an untenable situation."
OES is expected to ship by year-end. It will go into a public beta by late fall.