Opinion: NetWare reloaded

Life imitates art, or at least popular entertainment, more often than we'd like to think. Some of the current drama in the IT industry has intriguing parallels to a recent, popular movie sequel. Here's an excerpt of how the screenplay might go in the IT universe version:

(Immediately after gratuitous kung fu fight scene No. 14, CEO Morpheusman appears in front of a small crowd.)

CEO Morpheusman: Novell customers! Hear me! It is true, what many of you have heard. The competition has gathered an army, and as I speak, that army is drawing nearer to our homes.

(Tiny crowd of subjects wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with an N whisper anxiously among themselves.)

CEO Morpheusman: I stand here without fear because IBM remembers. IBM remembers that I am here not because of the path that lies before me, but because of the path that lies behind me! IBM remembers that for 10 years we have owned Unix. And after a threat of war from SCO, IBM finally remembered that which matters most: We are still here!

(A few people applaud in the crowd, followed by gratuitous kung fu fight scene No. 15, after which Councilor IBM meets with Neovell on the engineering level at Zion.)

Councilor IBM: Do you care for some company?

Neovell: Zzz. . . . Huh, what? No thanks, we're still trying to figure out what to do with Ximian.

Councilor IBM: I was thinking about Linux. Take a look at these machines. I like to be reminded that this company survives because of our machines, not the operating systems that run on them.

Neovell: So you don't need us. Is that your point, Councilor?

Councilor IBM: No, old men like me don't make points. We don't need a point, just lots of kung fu and special effects.

Neovell: Why don't you tell me what's on your mind, Councilor?

Councilor IBM: We want you to buy the commercial Linux company called SUSE. It's a great company. Indeed, if you knew SUSE like I know SUSE. . . .

Neovell: Why don't you buy your own commercial Linux?

Councilor IBM: Are you nuts? See those Linux distributions? I have absolutely no idea how they work. But I do understand the reason for them to work. They save us the trouble of building and maintaining our own operating systems, so we can make more money selling the hardware. Buying one of them would be more pointless than the plot of this movie.

We have it made -- or at least we had it made until SCO started frightening our customers with its intellectual property lawsuits.

(Gratuitous kung fu fight scenes Nos. 16-25 follow, after which Neovell meets the Arcanetech.)

Neovell: Who are you?

Arcanetech: I am the Arcanetech, the power behind IBM. You have many questions. While your first question may be the most pertinent, it is also the most irrelevant.

Neovell: Why does Novell still exist?

Arcanetech: Actually, I was expecting you to ask what this movie is about. But since you asked, the reason Novell exists has nothing to do with the fact that its software design is nearly perfect. The inevitability of its doom is a consequence of choice.

Nearly 99 percent of all customers will accept the program, as long as they are given a choice, and that choice is manipulated by billions of marketing bucks. The question is whether or not they have a choice. But here's a better question. If NetWare is already losing market share hand over fist, why are people more likely to want NetWare now just because it runs on a Linux kernel?

Neovell: So this is about NetWare.

Arcanetech: No, it is about hardware.

Neovell: You mean hardware as in the many platforms supported by Linux?

Arcanetech: No, hardware as in our hardware sales. You are here because Linux is about to be destroyed. But if you own both Unix intellectual property and a Linux distribution, that all but guarantees Linux will be safe.

Neovell: Ah, so you do need us in order to survive.

Arcanetech: There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept. Which brings us at last to the moment of truth. There are three choices. The door to your right marked "I agree to purchase SUSE" leads to $50 million and an all-expenses-paid trip to Germany. The door to your left leads to continued irrelevance. You can choose one or the other, or you can choose what's behind door No. 3.

Neovell: I'll take door No. 1. If that trip to Germany turns out to be a stinker, I would hope that we don't meet again.

Arcanetech: We won't, at least not in this movie. The rest of the footage is kung fu fight scenes and special effects.

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