SuSE Acquisition Leads Novell Down New Path

But will the acquisition mean the end of NetWare?

Novell Inc.s planned $210 million acquisition of SuSE Linux AG raises many questions, especially about the future of the network services companys NetWare operating system.

Novell CEO and Chairman Jack Messman maintains that the Provo, Utah, company has no plans to phase out NetWare as an operating system, saying that it is simply adding Linux to the mix.

But some customers and resellers are not convinced. John Kretz, president of Enlightened Point Consulting Group LLC, in Phoenix, said he expects the next version of NetWare to be the last true release.

"If Linux is Novells future, then its time to pull the life-support plug on NetWare and start dedicating serious resources to SuSE," Kretz said. "Everyone knows NetWare has already become irrelevant. Its really sad, too, since the core NetWare technology is still today far, far better than anything Microsoft [Corp.] has ever sold."

But Donald Barber, a senior technical support specialist with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Enterprise IT Delivery group, believes differently, saying SuSE does not point to the end of the road for NetWare but rather adds an option for customers.

"I have spent time with companies who have chosen to migrate to a Microsoft solution, and the long-term results are very consistent," Barber said. "They ultimately need more servers to provide the same services, need more staff to administer those servers who spend more time keeping them secure and have dramatically increased downtime."

The deal also gives SuSE, in Nuremberg, Germany, the leverage of Novells financial resources, channel and partners, as well as access to its global support network. Those are factors that Messman cites as critical to its unseating Red Hat Inc. as the No. 1 Linux vendor in the United States.

"Novell has been at the enterprise level for a very long time, and sitting on our NetWare kernel are a lot of enterprise NetWare services," Messman said. "These are all features Red Hat says it will add to its product going forward."

"Were going to put them on SuSE Linux, which gives us a significant leg up," Messman said.

Asked about Novells plans to support Red Hats Linux distributions and its relationship with the Raleigh, N.C., company, Messman said Novell had been trying to support Red Hat Inc. but that its executives had not been receptive.

SuSE Linux CEO Richard Seibt also pointed to the fact that both his company and Red Hat have to commit to the LSB (Linux Standard Base) standard. "That is sometimes pretty hard to discuss with Red Hat," Seibt said. "We are committed to the LSB standard to let customers easily migrate applications from one distribution to another."

On the competitive front, Messman said it would be wrong for Novell to paint Microsoft as the enemy. Rather, Linux should be looked at as an opportunity Novell wanted to take advantage of.

"Were going to satisfy our customers, and if that means that they want to replace Microsoft products, so be it. But I have a feeling we are going to peacefully coexist for a while as customers get comfortable in making a choice," Messman said.

Microsoft officials were also restrained in their comments about the deal. Martin Taylor, general manager for platform strategy at the Redmond, Wash., software company, was willing to say only that the move was further evidence of the trends of consolidation and commercialization in the Linux industry. It "will put additional commercial pressures on Linux around issues like cost, reliability, interoperability and security," Taylor said.

John Loiacono, vice president of Sun Microsystems Inc.s operating systems group, in Santa Clara, Calif., said that so far the deal has brought only a change to the logo on the front of the SuSE box; he emphasized that Linux companies need deep pockets to keep going.

But users have their own thoughts about the SuSE acquisition, announced this month. It is an attempt to convince a Novell-resistant market that the company is still relevant, according to Timothy Happychuk, director of IS for Quebecor Inc.s Sun Media Group, in Montreal. Without big improvements in heterogeneous client support and a clearly attainable business strategy, Novell will remain a nonstarter for most enterprise IT environments, Happychuk said.

"Without clear and real inducements for the developer community at large, Novell will never attain a critical mass of desirable third-party solutions," Happychuk said. "The decade-old mess of three different half-finished management interfaces for various Novell products still turns developers away."