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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…?

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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…?

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