Novell gets set to put up its dukes

SALT LAKE CITY – More aggressive. More edgy. That is the road Novell Inc. plans to travel in the future, according to the company’s recently appointed vice-chairman, Chris Stone.

Stone took the stage at the company’s annual user BrainShare conference here on Monday, delivering the only keynote of the day. Missing in action once again from the conference is the company’s CEO, Jack Messman, who is reportedly recovering in hospital after undergoing a surgical procedure. Just before his appointment as CEO last year, Messman made only a brief appearance at BrainShare 2001, ducking out early to tend to “prior engagements.”

Making up for Messman’s absence did not appear to be troubling for Stone. In his address to the masses, he made it clear that the path ahead would be a different one for Novell. Changes are on the way, he said, including a stronger line of attack from Novell in the market.

“I want to stress that (this doesn’t mean) a new Novell,” Stone told attendees. “We’re just making some changes. We’re going to get aggressive.” His promises drew a round of applause from attendees. “We plan to dominate and to drive,” he later added.

The promise to be more aggressive is something Novell customers have heard before, but have never really seen followed through to fruition. Stuart Holtby, CEO of Regina, Sask.-based Allstar Tech, is a Novell customer and an attendee at this year’s conference. As a systems integrator, he has been providing Novell solutions since 1992, “and so we’ve seen Novell go from (being) the king of the mountains to not-so-king,” he said.

While Holtby said he is optimistic and thinks Novell is on track, he still has some concerns, even after listening to Stone.

“The worry we have is that we want to make sure that Novell will stay strong, and there has been that question, clearly,” he said. “I welcome the edginess. The only thing you’ve got to be careful of is when you take that stance, you have to back it up. And I think Novell has tried that stance and sort of recoiled a little bit, and I think that they were sort of unsure that that is the stance that they should take. So I guess time will tell.”

The company has always treated him well, Holtby said, and he is anxious that the personal attention and care he has seen from the company will disappear should it try to get too aggressive. He explained that the reason he has been a customer for so long is because he has found over the years that “Novell has sort of won by being nice people, solid people and people you can trust. (But) there’s a threshold that you have to be careful not to cross. If you cross into that (aggressive) game, you are totally in a different league. They could get beat up pretty easily…if you go in there and try to bully people and you’re not used to bullying people – that’s the worry that I have.”

He is also concerned with the amount of changes that have been going on at the executive level, with so many people coming and going, saying he believes the company needs to get its own house in order before it can be “too edgy.”

But Novell’s changes are not limited to its marketing and staff. Changes will also be seen in its offerings. As an example: Stone vowed the company will be getting rid of application programming interfaces (APIs), making room for XML interfaces instead. And product-wise, the company will be taking a more streamlined approach, ultimately offering “solutions” and not just products. This will be done in part with Cambridge Technology Partners, now part of Novell, although the acquisition and merging process between it and Novell is still ongoing, according to Stone.

This move will also enable the company to target “higher up the food chain,” by getting CxOs and other C-level execs to buy into the technology to improve business.

The road to its solutions-focused strategy began yesterday with some announcements, including two brand new solutions: Novell ZENworks Synergy and Novell Workspace. Calling it the “first step towards moving to (a) solutions basis,” Stone explained that Synergy offers services bundled from Novell into a single suite, enabling companies to get information out to their employees no matter where they are, no matter what type of device they are using. Workspace, what the company is calling a “Web-based team solution,” provides messaging and information exchange capabilities, enabling groups to be created, work together and be dismantled as required.

Also on the horizon: eDirectory 8.7, which Stone is calling a “policy engine,” where users are able to store information such as rules and roles. The latest version will be available as a public beta shortly.

Ranking high on Novell’s focus list is its upcoming release of what it calls packaged identity-provisioning solutions. The first offering in this area is code-named Mercury, will target the provisioning of employees, and will be available later this year. Consequent versions of the offering will target the provisioning of customers and students, Stone said.

More information on BrainShare can be found at