Novell does it again

* Announces subscription needed for patches -- before backtracking on plan

There was a time, perhaps a dozen years ago, when Novell owned the identity management market. Of course, it's always been said of Novell that they have great technology, and abysmal marketing. They have managed to shoot themselves in the foot numerous times over the years -- and now they've done it again.

In a letter that recently went out to Novell resellers, John Dragoon (senior vice president, chief marketing officer and channel chief) wrote:

"To further encourage more customers to take advantage of the comprehensive benefits a maintenance contract provides, Novell is announcing that as of November 15, 2009, maintenance or subscription authorization will be required to access service packs and patches (excluding stand-alone security patches) for most Novell products. In early 2010, we will extend this initiative to include Technical Information Documents (TIDs) in the Novell Support Knowledgebase."

Yes, you read that correctly -- Novell wants to charge you to pay for the patches that fix the bugs in their software. This, of course, on top of paying for that software initially.

Dragoon's colleague Colleen O'Keefe (senior vice president of services, teleWeb and operations) justifies the current support money grab with this claim: "We absolutely believe there is tremendous value in Novell's patches, service packs and other intellectual property and that the cost of providing these services should not be solely born by current maintenance customers." 

Indeed, there is "value in Novell's patches and service packs" -- they enable the company to keep its customers because they enable the company's software to perform properly.

Now if the software ran perfectly out of the box there would be no need for patches or service packs, right? If there's no need for patches, then there's no reason to buy a maintenance contract in order to get access to patches. So -- given this new policy -- it does appear to be in Novell's interest to release software that's as buggy as possible. Not every bug affects every customer. It would need to include a sufficient number of bugs to insure that most customers would need access to patches.

Not even their most ardent foes have ever suggested that Microsoft deliberately ships buggy software. But now we must consider that Novell could be doing so.

Novell is no longer the dominant player in identity management that it once was. None of their products is a "must have". There's lots of competition and many of Novell's clients are already looking around.

What was Novell thinking?

At deadline: Novell has changed its mind, at least partially.  O'Keefe has announced "we have decided not to move forward with the knowledgebase portion of the plan. To be clear, all knowledgebase content, including Technical Information Documents, for all Novell products will continue to be freely available to all Novell customers and partners.…" 

We'll keep following this story.

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