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Novell Turns To Open Source To Regain Relevance

The company debuted a number of open-source initiatives at its BrainShare conference as it tries to reverse past missteps.
Novell introduced several open-source initiatives Monday at its annual BrainShare conference in a move to regain market relevance while demonstrating it has learned from past mistakes.

The new Open Enterprise Server is a combination of NetWare 7 and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, as well as networking services designed to interoperate between the systems. The company's upcoming ZENworks 6.5 resource-management application will let companies manage both Linux and Windows 2003 Server, desktop, and handheld environments. And in a move to give Novell and SuSE customers a greater role in the development of the technology, Novell said it will contribute both SuSE's "YaST" (Yet Another Setup Tool) Linux systems-management tool and Novell's iFolder personal storage and filing application to the open-source community.

Novell's past missteps include investing in server-based technology to the exclusion of the desktop and attempting to buy its way into new markets without a plan for integration, as it did a decade ago after buying WordPerfect Corp. and QuattroPro from Borland. Novell chairman and CEO Jack Messman sums up the disconnect between his company and the market over the past few years. "We felt we were still around," he said at a news conference. "But many of our customers thought we'd gone dark in many respects."

One of the keys to Novell's new strategy is an understanding that there's more money to be made in the software and services that sit on top of the operating system than on the operating system itself. Messman said Novell will be profitable this year, and that keeping this promise will depend upon the company balancing development efforts in its successful, but declining, NetWare business with investments in software and services for Linux users. In fact, Messman said Novell will invest profits from other areas of its business into its Linux efforts.

With Open Enterprise Server, Novell is supporting a mixed environment where its customers can run NetWare, Windows, and Linux. And it's delivering ahead of schedule. The company's timetable for doing this was accelerated with the acquisitions of Ximian and SuSE last year.

Both Novell and IBM again find themselves in competition with Microsoft on the operating-system level, but there's a difference this time around. Instead of pushing their own products, whether it's OS/2 or NetWare, neither company owns Linux. "We're merely giving the community software and services to make Linux easier for the CIO to use," Messman said. "We contribute to the code, but we're not in charge of the open-source community."