Novell would like to teach the world to Linux

Stephen Pritchard hears of the company's 'hip, cool and winning' strategy to head off Microsoft

Businesses too are starting to ask whether they should follow suit, and move away from expensive proprietary operating systems. This is a gratifying development for Jack Messman, chief executive of software vendor Novell.

Novell's core product, the network operating system NetWare, had been losing ground to Microsoft's Windows. But two years ago, Messman sealed a deal to buy SuSE, a German distributor of Linux. Costing $210m (then £133m), the move was widely seen as a gamble for Novell, and one where the rewards were less than obvious. Today, the price paid for SuSE looks as if it might have been a bargain.

At a stroke, Novell acquired a new foundation for its software products. Better still, it bought into a way of marketing those products outside its NetWare base, especially to companies operating Intel-based PCs and servers, and Windows. Novell could sell these companies its GroupWise collaboration software; it could add the systems management tools ZENworks, which work with Windows, as well as other platforms. And, as an alternative operating system for those who wanted to move away from Microsoft, it could offer SuSE Linux.

Into the bargain, Novell acquired what SuSE's head of development and now Novell's chief technology officer, Markus Rex, calls some "hip, cool, winning" technology.

For Messman, the challenge over the past two years has been to integrate the SuSE Linux family with Novell's existing product line, while keeping faith with the principles of the open source movement. He has also had to convince existing Novell customers that their investment in NetWare and GroupWise is safe, now that the company has embraced Linux so wholeheartedly.

Bridging the gap between open source software - developed by hobbyists and mostly distributed for free - and commercial products such as GroupWise is not easy. But Messman believes Novell is striking the right balance.

"We want to be 'mixed source'," he says. "Open means open standards, both for our proprietary and open-source software. For proprietary software it is open standards and for open source it is open and mixed, as the software comes from both the proprietary and open source world."

If that sounds as if Messman is trying to be all things to all men, it's not far from the truth. Commercial customers want to know that Novell will give them the business-level support they need. Linux enthusiasts want to know that they can still download a version of SuSE Linux for free.

Novell's answer is a product called the Open Enterprise Server. This is made up of the Novell-developed Netware services, and two alternative kernels (the core of the operating system): one based on NetWare, and one based on Linux. This, Messman believes, will offer a technology roadmap for NetWare customers and a way of selling Novell's software tools and applications to the nascent, but fast-growing, Linux market.

"We will protect customers who want to stay with NetWare, and for those who want to move to Linux, they can do it at their own pace," he explains. "We don't want to walk away from existing customers, but want to prepare them for a future on open source."

Leeds City Council is one organisation that is following this path. The authority is midway through upgrading its 10,500 workstations, as well as its servers, to run NetWare 6.5. For the future, Leeds has made a strategic decision to consider open source operating systems and software.

But even if Novell can keep large customers on board, it needs to address its problems selling to the wider market. As companies have abandoned expensive mainframe and Unix servers in favour of cheaper boxes based, in the main, on Intel chips, they have also moved to Windows. A newer generation of IT professionals - trained to work with Windows - is less likely to buy from Novell, leaving it with a smaller slice of a larger pie.

"Our overall strategy is to slow the steady decline in the NetWare business, which is the result of Microsoft's aggressive marketing," says Messman. "Customers were unclear about where we were headed with NetWare. We had to come up with a strategy to solve that issue. The first thing we did was to put our services, and NetWare, on Linux."

Before Novell committed to buying SuSE, Messman took soundings from the industry, in particular IBM. "I went to IBM to see that I was not making a wild mistake," he recalls. IBM is a key supporter of Linux and had worked closely with SuSE Linux. IBM rewarded Messman by taking a $50m stake in Novell.

IBM is a powerful partner for Novell in the enterprise computing market, but competition is tougher for business from smaller companies. Here, Microsoft has a compelling offering, selling most of what these customers need in its Windows Small Business Server suite. Novell, though, must capture market share here if its move into Linux is to realise its full potential.

"Little acorns grow into big trees, but small businesses don't have the time to integrate [IT systems]," says Messman. Novell has now released its own small business suite, which comes with desktop and server applications, at a lower cost than Microsoft's offering.

Messman notes that, faced with competition, Microsoft has softened its position on Linux. In some markets, especially Asia, it has cut the price of Windows and Office. But Messman maintains that it is open source, not Microsoft, that will drive development in the IT industry.

"Microsoft takes $1bn a month of free cashflow from the industry," says Messman. "[Other] software companies would rather customers spent that on innovative things, than on a commoditised operating system."

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
Paul McCartney backs the
people
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, Finance, MSc, PhD)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, F...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone