Innovators & Influencers: Between An Open Source Rock And A Microsoft Hard Place

Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian negotiated his way into a very hot seat with his $422 million Windows-Linux deal
Ron Hovsepian, welcome to the hot seat.

Hovsepian was Novell's head honcho for only a few months when he inked a $442 million deal in November with Microsoft that covers Windows and Linux product integration, patent protection, and marketing. A short time after, all hell broke loose.

First, the open source community accused Novell of selling its soul to the devil. Then Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer fanned the flames by saying that Linux uses Microsoft intellectual property and that Novell's Suse is the only Linux distribution with patent protection from Microsoft. It was widely interpreted as a shot across the bow of non-Novell Linux users everywhere.

Hovsepian quickly distanced himself from Microsoft's claims on Linux. But he will have to use all his political skills, for which he has a well-deserved reputation, to keep both open source advocates and Microsoft happy.

Hovsepian, 45, spent 17 years at IBM before he joined Novell in 2003 as president of North American sales. While in that post, he changed the company's regional sales model to reduce conflicts over territories and channels. Hovsepian was named president and chief operating officer last year.

One of Hovsepian's strengths has been his commitment to Linux without alienating the company's core base of NetWare users. He's credited with helping persuade 80% of enterprise NetWare customers to sign contracts for Novell Open Enterprise Server, which includes both NetWare networking services and the Suse Linux operating system, which Novell acquired in 2004.

In May, one month before being named CEO, Hovsepian approached Microsoft COO Kevin Turner, who'd been CIO at Wal-Mart and an IBM customer when Hovsepian was there. The two got to talking about making Windows-Linux interoperability easier for customers, leading to last month's announcement.

With the controversy still alive and Novell still in a fight for its life, there's no reason to expect Hovsepian will get too comfortable in the months ahead.

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