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A Novel Novell?

I am guessing that the news about Novell's intention to acquire SuSE came as quite a surprise to all of you. It certainly surprised me.

I am guessing that the news about Novell’s intention to acquire SuSE came as quite a surprise to all of you. It certainly surprised me.

At first, I thought the announcement was an elaborate practical joke until I saw that the email I received came directly from Joseph Eckert, SuSE’s public relations chief. Then, I said, “Huh,” as if pigs suddenly could fly or the general theory of relativity suddenly made sense. Dazed and confused, I started wandering around the Web, looking for some telltale signs that I wasn’t delusional and that apes didn’t run the planet. Slashdot and other community boards were brimming with debate on the topic already, so I was relieved. At least the general populace was suffering from the same delusion.

Of course, web sites teemed with the usual chatter: some people mourned the passing of another scrappy independent Linux company, while others decried the perversion of yet another distro, and still others pondered, “What the hell is Novell thinking?”

My reaction: Novell’s thinking is pretty clear: Why (re)build when you can buy?

The purchase of Ximian and SuSE now gives Novell — a company that most of us probably disregarded as antiquated and irrelevant — an instant Linux business. Just add customers. In the period of six months, Novell has come to own Gnome and KDE, Mono, SuSE Linux, and Red Carpet — all significant, influential products, representing three application software development kits and distributions for every platform from the desktop to the enterprise. In fact, as strange as it seems, if you compare the novel Novell to other computer companies, Novell starts to look a lot like Microsoft, IBM, Sun, or Apple, all companies that market and sell complete computing environments, including an operating system, network services, a desktop, a development toolkit (or two or three), and server side software. Better yet, the Novell “stack” is based on Linux, the fastest growing segment of the industry.

Of course, what Novell looks like isn’t nearly as important or as interesting as how Novell behaves. Developing a leadership position can be underwritten, but attaining and maintaining leadership has to be earned.

So far, Novell’s doing the underwriting, maintaining an “If it ain’t broke” relationship with Ximian and SuSE, and seems to be forming a compelling line of Linux products. Shareholders are a fickle lot (imagine that), and as to the community, well, it’s an even tougher audience, simply because there are so many different hearts and minds to please.

However, Novell is in a unique position to the win those people over. While it may be conservative, lackluster, and stodgy, most CIOs are conservative, lackluster, and stodgy, so Novell speaks their language. CIOs also hate the lack of choice: SuSE is a new option to consider, along with Red Hat and Microsoft, two companies who’ve tinkered with licensing to much chagrin. (Wow, this Novell thing really is trippy: I just equated Red Hat with Microsoft.) IBM is still an option, too. And guess whose distro they’re pushing? Novell’s. Novell and IBM. Huh.

All in all, we’re living in exciting times. The VW bug been’s reinvented, the Mini Cooper’s been reincarnated, Micronauts are back in the toy store, and Novell’s back on the radar. What’s next? My vote: bring back the Marathon bar. Hey, a guy can hope.

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Martin Streicher, Editor

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