Linux and Novell prep for their close-up


As I write this, news of Novell’s intent to purchase German Linux vendor SuSE Linux AG is only hours old. It’s unclear whether shareholders or regulators will yet put a stop to the company’s plans. But if Novell stickhandles this buyout correctly, it could have a big impact on both the company’s future and, potentially, your IT strategy.

Novell and Linux make apt partners. The former was at one time one of the few true heavyweights of the IT industry. The sheer clout of Novell’s NetWare network OS is summed up neatly by a customer in our story “Championing Linux” (page 12), who remembers that not so long ago, “nobody did anything if it wasn’t a Novell network.”

However, that dominance began to ebb in the mid-nineties as Windows increasingly made a name for itself in the corporate environment while Novell’s marketing department largely stood by and watched. The result: according to IDC, NetWare had a 4.3-per-cent share of the OS market in 2002, dropping 12.4 per cent since 2001. Microsoft had more than 55 per cent of the market.

The story of Linux, meanwhile, is like Novell in reverse. In the mid-nineties, it was little more than a hobbyhorse. Nobody, not even adherents, viewed it as a serious challenger to the OS status quo. But its undeniable stability and security caught some attention. As a result, several high-profile vendors lent their moral – and more importantly, financial – support.

But Linux, like Novell, is at a crossroads. To truly crack the enterprise, Linux will need to put on a suit nice enough to impress the CIO. As well, someone, somewhere is going to have to offer extensive services and support, and be there when something goes wrong. Novell, meanwhile, has to find some way to generate confidence among its dwindling but still-loyal user base, and begin looking at ways to expand its market share.

That’s why it makes sense for Linux and Novell to be together. Novell had already announced plans for the Linux kernel to be embedded in the next major version of NetWare. By acquiring SuSE, it’s taking the steps it needs to put some meat on the bones of its promises.

Linux, meanwhile, gets the clout of Novell to help ease enterprise jitters.

Windows sells well because it works, and it comes with the undeniable appeal of being able to tie in to front-end applications.

But as evidenced in everything from Canadian federal politics to newspapers, competition is a good thing for everyone.

And that’s why this deal could, if played right, see everyone win.