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Why the Sun-buying-Novell rumor is ridiculous, Part 1

Aug 10, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinux

* Novell would be too expensive for Sun

There was a huge amount of ink (both virtual and physical) spent on the non-story of the year circulating last week about the possibility of Sun buying Novell.

A reporter for another publication (and not part of the IDG family) either bored, or facing a deadline, added 1+1 and came up with 5. Sun President and COO Jonathan Schwartz was quoted as speculating on what IBM might do should Novell (the source of the SuSE Linux that IBM sells for its hardware) fall to an IBM competitor, such as Sun.

Idle speculation at best, a red herring at its worst. Sun has made some strange moves over the years, but buying Novell would amount to clear proof that the current Sun management (including Schwartz and CEO Scott McNealy) was ready to be turned out to pasture.

The major jewel in the Novell crown is eDirectory. But Sun already has iPlanet, er, Sun ONE Directory, er, Sun Java System Directory Server, and has no need of another directory system. Likewise, Sun’s acquisition of Waveset Technology last year gave it the premier offering in the identity provisioning space; Sun has no need for Novell’s identity-based products (provisioning, single sign-on, self-service password reset, etc.).

NetWare, of course, would disappear faster than you could say “Sun Java System Directory Server.” Novell has all but ended development for the venerable operating system, and Sun would have no reason to keep it around.

What about GroupWise? Well, it’s not even my favorite Novell e-mail system – NetMail is. But Sun already has e-mail offerings, so here are two more products that would get dumped.

That pretty much leaves SuSE Linux (along with the various Ximian offerings) as the only things of value to Sun. Novell paid $210 million for SuSE and a reported $20 million for Ximian.

While Novell’s stock is trading at only about $7 (although that’s much better than a year or two ago), there are enough shares outstanding to give it a market cap in the $3 billion range – and Sun would need to offer a premium on that.  Figure a 10% premium and that’s $3.3 billion for products worth (let’s be generous and say that there are a few other things Sun could use) maybe $300 million. Should Sun announce that it was actually trying to acquire Novell, the sound you’d hear is the stampede of lawyers filing class-action suits on behalf of Sun shareholders!

Still, there are intangibles that could figure into the deal that might raise the value of the purchase to Sun and its stockholders. Next issue we’ll look at those things.