Novell Continues to Buy Open Source

To win battles for enterprise hearts, minds and dollars, Novell will have to do more than open some of its code.

Is Novell committed to open source? That was the headline of a column I wrote a few months ago in which I argued that Novell should demonstrate its resolve to continue along the open-source track on which it had embarked by releasing the code to the Ximian Connector for Microsoft Exchange.

Novell has hitched its fortunes increasingly tightly to open source over the past year, from integrating free software components in NetWare 6.5 and embracing Linux as a supported (and soon primary) platform for its network services stack to purchasing desktop Linux development house Ximian and leading Linux distributor SuSE.

However, it remained to be seen whether Novell believed enough in open source to not only make closed software freely available to users, but also allow competitors to adopt and build on that code themselves.

Last week, I was encouraged to see Novell release the Ximian Connector under the free GPL, where it joins a growing list of once-closed code that Novell has opened—including SuSEs YaST installation and configuration tools and Novells iFolder file-sharing technology.

If the arguments I made in my previous column about Novell and the Ximian Connector are correct, Novell should find that this product, as well as the others it has opened, will be more valuable now than before.

First off, now that the code for the Connector is free, we should see development speed up. While Novell leads development of the Evolution groupware client into which the Connector plugs, Sun Microsystems and Red Hat also ship Evolution as the default mail client with their Linux offerings. We can expect to see development contributions from both of these firms, and well likely see help come from other projects unrelated to Evolution, such as the mail clients from Apple and the KDE Project.

Another important effect of the code-opening decisions is that Novell will attract more users for its products, putting Novell in a better position to sell these users other products or services. Itll be easier to convince a site running Evolution on the client side and Exchange on the server to consider a move to Groupwise than it would be for a site running Outlook on the client side.

However, if Novell is to win battles for enterprise hearts, minds and dollars, it will have to do more than open some of its code. For one thing, the strategy I mentioned above for weaning companies from Exchange would be a lot more viable if Novell produced a Windows port of Evolution.

Right now, Evolution is probably the most prominent open-source desktop application not to support Windows. The fact that I can run the Mozilla Projects Thunderbird mail client on both Windows and Linux—as I can with, Firefox and Gaim—has had me running Thunderbird in place of Evolution in recent weeks.

A more important task facing Novell moving forward is assembling an integrated, approachable face to turn toward the open-source community. For instance, Novell announced that it was releasing YaST under the GPL as part of a systems management project back in March— and yet, theres no YaST project page, no source for other companies or community members to connect with the YaST project to adopt these excellent tools for their own purposes or to participate in their development.

According to a company official, Novell has some organizational issues to work out before bringing such a page online. This isnt surprising, since SuSE always regarded YaST as a key differentiator, which is why SuSE released it under a non-free license.

Next page: A free YaST could lead to an all free, community-oriented SuSE release.