As Microsoft Turns: The Soap Opera Plays On

Opinion: In last week's episode, Microsoft sent $546 million Novell's way; this week, Microsoft launches a campaign to win over Novell customers. Will such moves land the software giant back in court?

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.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick 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.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead 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?