I’m Novell. I’ll be your Linux Server Today

Time to fess up. If at this time last year someone told you that Novell was going to be a leading company of any sort, you'd have smiled. If someone had told you that Novell was going to be a leading Linux company, you'd have busted out laughing. But no one's laughing now.

I’m Novell. I’ll be your Linux Today

Time to fess up. If at this time last year someone told you that Novell was going to be a leading company of any sort, you’d have smiled. If someone had told you that Novell was going to be a leading Linux company, you’d have busted out laughing. But no one’s laughing now.

Novell, in what looks to me to be a stunning turnaround, has gone from being a has-been company to being a top operating system company. Funny what investing in Linux will do for you, isn’t it? By buying Ximian and then SuSE, Novell suddenly exploded from a long slumber into the forefront of Linux. With its vast crew of resellers and support engineers, Novell can now put Linux in front of tens of thousands of businesses that would have no more thought of Linux for their servers or desktops than they would OS/2 or AmigaDOS.

As I write this, this is potential. The SuSE deal needs the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted. But looking ahead, I can see a great, heck, a grand future ahead for Novell and Linux.

Now it won’t be a walk in the park. Novell is a slow-moving, deliberate company. SuSE is a fast moving Linux company. Novell’s staff is conservative Americans. SuSE’s is go-getting Germans. Managing the two groups is going to be … challenging.

However, I think Novell can do it because Novell has gotten the Linux, open source religion. If they keep their eyes on the prize and speed up their American operations to Ximian and SuSE speeds, I think all will be well.

Another reason I think Novell can pull this off is that they’ve been here before. NetWare was the creation of a group of elite programmers called the Superset. For all intents and purposes, in Novell’s early days, the Superset called all the shots. At the beginning, this engineering-driven approach worked well, but eventually led to NetWare not adapting fast enough to deal with Microsoft s NT. I hope Novell learned once and for all that you need to give your programmers a lot of rope, but you can’t let them run the show.

Another plus for Novell is that they have an entire suite of server programs that will run on Linux. A customer who buys Novell has his choice of top-notch, brand-name server programs with full, in-company support. Novell also lucked out because just as Red Hat moved away from a knowledge worker desktop by abandoning the Red Hat Linux line for the Red Hat Enterprise Linux server and community supported Fedora, Novell announced that they would support a complete desktop to server stack. Businesses, as Microsoft s customers have shown, love that kind of vertical integration.

Of course, to pull this off, Novell has to deal with the fact that they now have both the leading supporters of the Gnome desktop, Ximian, and KDE, SuSE, in the same stable. It looks to me that Novell plans on supporting both of them. That’ll be an interesting — to say the least — balancing act. Internally, you can count on the supporters of one desktop squabbling with the other. Externally, you know every move will be Slashdotted to death by kibitzers, and customers are going to want know, “Well, which is it, KDE or Gnome?”

This may turn out to be Novell’s toughest challenge. They need to come up with a concrete strategy because Linux’s biggest enemy, Microsoft, will be watching closely for any possible opening.

It must have been a really entertaining day in Redmond when news broke that Novell was buying SuSE. Suddenly, Novell, which was no longer even on their back burner, but back in the leftover drawer of Microsoft’s refrigerator, is now on their front burner. Novell needs to move, not just on the desktop, but everywhere — and quickly if they want to avoid getting run over by Microsoft discounting Server 2003 and other such moves.

Could it come to that? Could Microsoft actually start broadly reacting towards Linux as a business threat rather than endlessly disparaging Linux and offering special deals in situations like Munich where Linux was clearly a viable option? Yes, with Novell in the Linux business, I think that’s exactly what’ll happen.

Microsoft was concerned with IBM embracing Linux. At the end of the day, though, they saw, correctly I think, that IBM Linux was more of a threat to Sun in mid-range systems than to PC-based servers. Novell changes everything. Novell lives and dies by the PC server. Meanwhile, Microsoft is making their biggest push ever to take over the Intel-server world once and for all. Extending the link between desktop and server to new limits, Office 2003 now depends on a comprehensive Server 2003 infrastructure.

Novell becoming a Linux company isn’t just another step forward in mainstream businesses buying into Linux. It’s a slap in Microsoft’s face. If you thought that the struggle between Linux and Microsoft operating systems was hot before, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is a long-time Unix guru and technology writer. He can be reached at sjvn@vna1.com.

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