As Microsoft Turns: The Soap Opera Plays On

By David Coursey  |  Posted 2004-11-16

As Microsoft Turns: The Soap Opera Plays On

The great thing about Microsoft is how the week after it gives you a half-billion dollars to settle complaints of anti-competitive practices it then comes for you with the long knives.

Click here to read "Microsoft Moves Closer to Wiping Its Antitrust Slate Clean."

Its not that Microsoft is going to steal the money back from Novell, but Bill & Co. Tuesday unveiled an aggressive campaign to convert Novells remaining NetWare customers before Novell can spend the settlement money trying to convert them to its own Linux servers.

Read more here about Microsofts play for NetWare customers.

Its sad the era of the primetime soap opera has ended, as this plot is surely worthy of "Dallas," "Dynasty" or "Falcon Crest." But Novell is about to discover that todays reality programs are a lot less fun than J.R. and the Ewing clan, now finding itself in a game of "Survivor" with few friends left on the island.

In this game, the voting will be done by a very select group: NetWare customers. Unless you happen to be one of them, NetWare is probably not something youve thought much about since the Windows 286 era.

Back in those thrilling days of yesteryear, the West was (briefly) won not in Seattle but Provo, Utah, where Novell arose from Mormon roots to become the first network operating system many of us used. Couple NetWare with a cc:Mail installation, and you had, for its time, world-class networking and e-mail. And by networking we meant mostly file and printer sharing. Expensive laser printers, especially.

There was no defining moment when Novell "lost" to Microsoft, though its bungling of the acquisitions of both WordPerfect and the Unix operating system certainly helped the former Big Reds descent into insignificance.

After those fiascoes, even Eric Schmidt, the good-guy former Sun exec, wasnt able to turn Novell around during his tenure as its chairman and CEO. Schmidt has since gone on to helping engineer Googles colossal success.

As Microsoft solidified its control of the desktop OS and applications markets, it only seemed natural for it to control local area networks as well. The combination of NT and Exchange Server is probably what took Novell out of the big game as much as the companys own missteps.

Still, Novell has had a persistent enough installed base that the company has remained a player, if not a terribly significant one. Its recent investments have been in Linux, with the apparent goal of transitioning the remaining NetWare installations over to open source and picking up new customers from Linuxs overall growth.

Last week, Novell settled a long-standing legal battle with Microsoft, to the tune of Redmond sending its one-time rival a $536 million payment. Seven days ago, that looked like money Novell could use to pummel Microsoft with its Linux transition strategy.

Next Page: Microsoft poised to pummel?

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But this week, Microsoft is poised to do some pummeling of its own, unveiling Tuesday its "Mid-Market NetWare Migration Promotion," a program aimed at snatching Novells customers before Linux does.

Forgetting the Microsoft programs less-than-catchy name, the MMNWMP is aimed at getting people who have been satisfied enough with their old technology platform to switch to a new one. The length of time these customers have been using Novell products can be looked at in two ways.

One is that their networks are so petrified that they will be almost impossible to change to anything new short of a total meltdown. Another view is that given enough hand-holding, and a very good deal, these customers are ripe for the picking. Guess which view is Microsofts?

It may be a while before Microsoft turns these NetWare customers into profits, but as Bill Gates once famously remarked: The problem with losing a sale isnt just that Microsoft didnt make the money for itself, its that a competitor got it. Thus Microsoft is willing to make almost any deal to keep customers away from what it perceives as the Linux menace.

For more insights from David Coursey, check out his Weblog.

Its worth remembering that this "win at any price" strategy is what got Microsoft into legal trouble with Novell (and most of the rest of the world) in the first place. Microsoft seems to be using 2004 to clean up its legal messes with Novell, Sun, the company now called Linspire, the EU and others. Its spending to end these problems could top $5 billion, but its Linux battle may also be planting the seeds of future legal tussles with competitors like Red Hat, IBM and even Novell.

Maybe in a decade Ill be able to resurrect this column, add the IBM and Red Hat settlements at the top, and report that history has, once again, repeated itself. It will be fun to watch what, if anything, Microsoft gets itself into.

Contributing Editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. Before joining, David was executive editor of ZDNet AnchorDesk and has been a columnist for PC World, ComputerWorld and other publications. Former executive producer of DEMO and other industry events, he also operates a technology consulting and event management business. A full bio and contact information may be found on his Web site (

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