What If… Microsoft Bought Novell?

According to the company, Novell would consider being acquired should the right buyer come along. Could that buyer be Microsoft? And what would that mean for SUSE and the Linux ecosystem?

Last week, Novell turned down a buyout offer from hedge fund firm, Elliott Associates. Reasons for the rejected offer were cited as the price per share being too low and the acquisition would limit the company’s future growth opportunities.

In a statement Novell said that it “is committed to enhancing value for Novell stockholders and believes that an exploration of alternatives is in the best interests of the company and its stockholders.”

While stockholder value can come in a number of forms (stock buybacks, cash dividends, &c.) what the Elliott Associates offer has allowed Novell to do is let everyone know that the company could be had for the right price without looking like they are actively fishing for buyers. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz used similar language last year in the run-up to selling the company to Oracle.

While not assured, in the very near future, it is possible that Novell could be acquired. But by who?

There aren’t many companies with the capital reserves or the market position to pull off an acquisition of Novell: IBM, Oracle, HP, CA, Cisco. And Microsoft.

Novell is already tightly coupled with Microsoft as a result of their alliance with the company established in 2006 (has it really been that long?). Might the software giant also be the perfect company to snap up the Linux vendor?

What If…?


As a child of the 70s and early-80s one of my favorite comic books was Marvel’s What If…? series. Every month the comic would investigate “the road not traveled” by some of it’s more established characters. For those that have never had the pleasure of reading this series, “What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?” and “What if Dr. Doom had become a hero?” are examples of two popular issues.

As I was thinking about a Microsoft acquisition of Novell, it struck me we were, at best, getting into alternate reality territory and it might serve us to revive the comics of my youth to better explore it.

And so, fearless reader, without further ado, we present four potential outcomes for What If… Microsoft Bought Novell?

What If… They Kill It With Fire?

Break up the company, sell off under-performing divisions, slow the development of SUSE to a crawl. Fin.

While Google and Yahoo! have demonstrated this tactic well over the past several years I don’t think this would be how Microsoft would handle Novell. It would cost far too much to purchase Novell and the upside of keeping it as a going concern is probably to great to ignore.

What If… SUSE is to Windows as MySQL is to Oracle?

Much like MySQL, Linux is growing and isn’t going to simply fade away. While Oracle would probably like everyone to just purchase a large Oracle license it’s clear that’s not going to happen for a large percentage of potential customers, so they should probably just take whatever profits they can from MySQL licenses. Sell Oracle where you can. Sell MySQL where you can’t.

Microsoft could use this strategy with SUSE. Concede some areas where Microsoft struggles to Linux, force SUSE out of others, tighten the integration between the OSes and reconcile the issues of a competitive product mix with your sales team.

Messy. Complicated. Still, it’s possible and Microsoft could use a new revenue stream. But very few in the Linux community would believe MSFT was giving SUSE a fair shake.

What If… Microsoft Declares Total (Patent) War?

Possibly the most popular of the potential What If…? outcomes, Microsoft could use the ownership of Novell to push patent-laden code into SUSE (and potentially upstream into the Kernel) creating a cascade of licensing litigation/strong-arming and, possibly, the crippling of the GPL.

This is really just a variation on what many think Microsoft is already doing (See Microsoft Patches Linux; Linus Responds and Trimming the FAT: Linux and Patents). The difference in this scenario, of course, is that their ownership of SUSE could speed the process along.

What If… Windows Goes the Way of OS X?

Now we ventured into serious What If…? territory.

On parallel with issue #14′s “What if Sgt. Fury had fought World War 2 in outer space?,” in this scenario Microsoft redirects work on the existing Windows code base toward developing a Linux-based version of Windows.

Just as Apple was able to reboot the Macintosh with BSD-based[1] OS X, Microsoft could usher in an era of a powerful, friendly, stable, open Windows based on the Linux Kernel.

Just how far out there is this idea? Imagine if when someone asked you what distro you were running your answer was “Windows.”

Still, I like the idea so much that I wish it had its own Valve-style comic book cover.

[1] OK, Darwin has more packed into than just BSD, but you get the idea.

Only the Watcher Knows

So there you have it, True Believer; four possible(?) scenarios — ranging from open source apocalypse to a potential computing utopia — that could play out should Microsoft see its way clear to acquire Novell.

Vote for your favorite in the comments or share your own What If…?

Comments on "What If… Microsoft Bought Novell?"


Well, it really shouldn\’t be allowed. Antitrust laws should prevent this, but I guess people with enough money can buy their way around these laws in this country.

Anyhow, once Suse got together with Microsoft, I dumped it anyway.

Googles OS that you can run on a netbook and quickly boot to a browser, has a real shot at hurting microsoft in the netbook world…especially for people who only need to get to the internet. It is genius in that aspect.


I assume you\’ve seen this:


Now Microsoft owning SuSE Enterprise would force a rewrite of that. ;-) Personally, I think the logical owner for SuSE Linux is the Intel / Nokia MeeGo partnership, or maybe just Intel. And I don\’t know what else is in the Novell portfolio.

I\’m an extremely happy openSUSE user, but if it went to Microsoft, there would be so much FUD that I\’d walk away regardless of how much MSFT tried to re-assure me that they had no intention of killing it.


Firstly, Novell isn\’t doing itself any favors with its PR or marketing. Novell really needs is a company that really gets the SMB market. Novell scared off many schools and other SMB institutions. If Novell had cash, it really needs to control and work better with local VARs across the country. VARs are whom most SMB customers go to.

Hell would likely freeze over if MS did buy Novell. Open Enterprise Server would be canceled; do not pass go. MS has no interest in competing with itself in the directory space.

Secondly, it may want some Novell talent. At one time Novell had talented engineers at its Utah location. I don\’t know if they still do. Their business and marketing acumen was always troubled, however.

As for SuSe, likely MS would probably keep it around, not really killing it, but not actively doing much to continue selling it. It will remain a skunkworks project in one person\’s lab.

Likely the main MS would buy Novell is to shore up its copyright of the Unix code. According to SCO-Novell lawsuit, Novell still owns the copyright. With the copyright to Unix, there\’s little telling what MS could do with it.

Lastly, one of the better buyers would be IBM. IBM is a big user, contributor, and seller of Linux already; a big win in my book. According to many Novell already acts like IBM internally. Their prices are already enterprise, though, a major problem.

Oracle would be okay. Oracle is a huge Linux user and seller of Unbreakable Linux (Based on Red Hat, not SuSe, though). With its Sun Microsystems merger, Oracle has its hands full with Solaris and SPARC. I don\’t think Oracle would buy Novell, unless it was really discounted.


Coming from years of Novell Netware, I want to choke on my words, and given the Windows Linux competition, at first glance, acquisition of Novell would not be high on Microsoft\’s list.

But, the more I think about the market that Microsoft can\’t enter now, and the sales they are missing for software like MS Office, MS Internet Explorer, SharePoint, MSSQL, MS Exchange (the list goes on), the more I see a place for Novell in the Microsoft realm.

Microsoft, as the bastion of Windows OS, a commercially licensed offering, would be hard-pressed to support free software, but if OpenSUSE were brought under Microsoft\’s wing, there would be a plausible case for porting other licensed software offerings to OpenSUSE – opening up a growing market. Just think of the opportunity for MS Office in a market presently only addressed by Open Office (many organizations are chomping at the bit to roll out MS Office to their non-Windows and non-Mac users, even if they have to cough up money for software licenses).

I am surprised that the paranoia in Redmond hasn\’t been overcome yet by at least a toe in the water – wouldn\’t it be nice to run Internet Explorer (just think of the vulnerabilities that Microsoft could open up for Linux users) on our Linux boxes? Perhaps this would be the much needed push back against growing market share from rivals, Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera and Safari (can we see the day when Apple jumps into the fray with a Linux port for Safari?).

If anything made more sense for Microsoft, and help grow OpenSUSE and the Linux market, in general, than the acquisition of Novell, please let me know.


The patent thing sounds quite plausible. \”Mature company\” is a metaphor for \”all lawyered up and looking for a place to go.\”

Something about Ballmer says revenge is high on his todo list.


If Microsoft bought Novell, as much as I hate Novell, I know that all hope would be lost. Microsoft would come up with a twisted way to destroy linux, and it would be game over. Remember the SCO case? Novell owns UNIX copyrights that are keeping the penguin safe. This is scary.