Novell does the Linux tango

Novell's latest Linux acquisition gives the company a server-to-desktop open source story that is compelling and timely. It is a shot in the arm for Novell and another important endorsement for Linux.

Novell's latest Linux acquisition gives the company a server-to-desktop open source story that is compelling and timely. It is a shot in the arm for Novell and another important endorsement for Linux.

The acquisition of SuSe Linux adds the server component needed to complement the Linux desktop tools Novell picked up when it acquired Ximian in August. And that dovetails nicely with the plans the company announced in April to port all NetWare services to Linux.

Add to all of that Novell's legacy base, progress on new fronts such as identity management, and the company's worldwide consulting, training and support, and it makes for a powerful story.

The only flaw you can find in the strategy is: Why didn't Novell do it earlier? The writing has been on the wall for some time both in terms of NetWare's decline and Linux's ascendancy. But Novell has been treading water. Sales for the last eight quarters have seesawed between $260 million and $300 million, and only two of the eight were profitable.

The company is having some success with its identity management and secure Web services software, but it is become increasingly clear that Novell's long-term viability is dependent on finding a core alternative to NetWare, which Linux seems to offer. This is a good fit.

And while Novell Chairman Jack Messman has said the Linux acquisitions don't add up to a run at Microsoft on the desktop, and we would agree, the timing is such that Novell might have more success here than it is counting on.

Network executives are truly exasperated with Microsoft. One said privately last week that she had spent $1 million last year on Microsoft license upgrades and it made her so mad she dispatched folks to review desktop alternatives. The team returned with the bad news that the options aren't mature enough yet, but noted there are promising developments.

The manager of IS support at a company with 1,000 desktops found much the same thing. "With Office costing $450 now and coming complete with security holes, I want another option," he said. He evaluated Star Office and liked it, but said "you can't hand embedded macros back and forth. You can pass them from Windows to Star Office OK, but you can't pass them back, and that kills it for us for now."

But on the server side, this user already is heading down the open source road, migrating a core database to MySQL on Linux.

Based on these sentiments, Novell suddenly seems nicely positioned.

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.