Novell gives Linux the green light

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Novell Inc. is working on a migration path that will make its services available on both a NetWare and a Linux kernel in order to broaden its enterprise appeal.

Novell CEO Jack Messman, attending his first BrainShare conference after missing last year due to illness, said

during a keynote address that customers have asked the company to provide a Linux alternative for years. Linux won’t be available until the release of NetWare 7.0, which is probably another 18 months away, but Novell is sowing the seeds of open source growth with NetWare 6.5.

The platform, due to be shipped this summer, will include Apache, MySQL, Perl, PHP and Tomcat. It will also ship with exteNd – Novell’s application server developed by SilverStream, which Novell bought last year – as well as a UDDI server and SOAP server.

Despite the emphasis on open source and mapping out a path that will take the company towards Linux support, Messman insisted that Novell isn’t about to dump NetWare. A decade ago, NetWare owned about 70 per cent of the network operating system market. That number has shrunk dramatically due to incursions from rivals like Microsoft.

“”It’s all about choice,”” said Messman. “”Customers do not have to abandon NetWare to move to Linux . . . Linux is an up and coming kernel that people want to take advantage of.””

He said that users were worried that there might not be a way to run Novell on Linux, given the operating system’s growing adoption by the enterprise market. Existing Novell customers will be given the option of moving from a NetWare kernel to Linux once it’s available, said Messman, but he was confident that most will remain on the company’s flagship product.

The Linux announcement received applause from the estimated 5,000 BrainShare attendees, but only a smattering compared to Novell’s decision to stay the course with NetWare. “”It makes me very nervous, but I think it’s important you see what we’re doing,”” said vice-chairman Chris Stone when he took the BrainShare stage. “”Thank God you clapped at Jack’s last five minutes.””

Stone later added during a press conference that “”the kernel isn’t the issue, it’s what you run on it . . . Over time we will continue to take the services that you’ve come to know on NetWare and make them run on multiple platforms.””

For IDC Canada Ltd. analyst Warren Shiau, the decision to embrace Linux was practically a fait accompli.

“”They would have had to do this sooner or later. Better sooner than later,”” said Shiau. “”It may end up being a way of ensuring customers that Novell has a future.””

Novell’s uphill battle against Windows isn’t getting any easier. Offering a Linux alternative is “”a way of getting around that . . . around partisan politics,”” he said.

The company is in the midst of a transformation that began two years ago when Novell bought professional services firm Cambridge Technology Partners, led by Messman. Novell’s CEO at the time, Eric Schmidt, stepped down and was replaced by Messman. The acquisition was designed to move Novell away from its reputation as purely a software firm with hundreds of products to more of a solutions focus.

Last year at BrainShare, Stone promised to pare those products down into groupings that could more easily be sold by partners and implemented by customers. Now Novell has four basic categories: Nterprise (which includes NetWare), Nsure, exteNd and Ngage (which is a codeword for services).

The company is attempting to broaden its appeal and mend its reputation for lackluster marketing not only by simplifying and recodifying its products, but in some cases by giving them away. In the past, Novell has offered its eDirectory product for free to customers willing to swap it with a rival directory they’re using. Stone said Novell had 2,900 customers took them up on that offer. Now Novell is offering a small business pack for free – albeit for a limited trial with a limited number of seats – which will be delivered exclusively through its channel partners. The opportunity to upsell on both services and additional Novell products is apparent, said Stone, particularly since small and medium-sized businesses now represent a greater proportion of the technology market.

Other announcements from BrainShare opening day include a GroupWise client that will run on Linux and the Macintosh OS, and a new version of ZENWorks, which is available now as one suite rather than as separate products.

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