Novell to share future with Linux

In an attempt to reassure its anxious NetWare customer base, Novell Inc. announced at its recent annual BrainShare user conference that the next major version of the platform will ship with a Linux kernel.

In doing so, Jack Messman, CEO and chairman of the Provo, Utah-based software and services vendor, said Novell is offering IT administrators a choice of remaining with NetWare, or to migrate to Linux. However, Novell would maintain its ties with those customers by offering them “enterprise-class support.”

“It’s all about choice,” Messman said. “Customers don’t have to abandon NetWare to move to Linux. We’ll help them get there.”

Although the release of Version 7 is least 18 months away, Messman said by announcing its future plans now, “the pressure to go away from NetWare will diminish.”

Many of the other announcements from BrainShare reflected Novell’s emphasis on open source technology. The company said NetWare 6.5 – the public beta version of which was unveiled at BrainShare – will ship with open source components, including the MySQL database and Apache Web server, as well as the ability to handle Perl, PHP and Tomcat.

The company launched a new Web site where developers can find the source code for Novel Nsure UDDI Server, which Novell says can help them secure Web services.

In addition, Novell unveiled a GroupWise client for Linux and Macintosh desktops, and launched a new five-day Linux certification program recognizing those who have attained a level of expertise integrating Novell and Linux technologies.

But Novell officials, while praising Linux for its openness and future prospects, were also careful not to give its user base any reason to feel nervous.

“Why include Linux? Again it’s about freedom of choice,” said Ross Chevalier, director of technology and solutions architecture at Toronto-based Novell Canada. “We’re not abandoning the NetWare kernel…we’ve already talked to customers who’ve requested some clarification.” He added that the prospects for Linux among Canada’s NetWare users mirror those of their U.S. counterparts.

Chevalier said the draw to NetWare 6.5 is likely the application server, as well as the virtual office features, which he said could be the “sleeper service” of the year.

At least one Novell customer is applauding the Linux option. “The way they’re migrating the operating system – going to a modular format – makes a lot of sense,” said Michael Gardner, a senior systems engineer at Munder Capital Management, a financial services firm in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. NetWare “has always stood there as one of the more stable operating systems; it just wasn’t as usable. Now they’re making it more usable with Linux.”

Seventy-nine per cent of NetWare users want to upgrade to NetWare 6.5, according to an online poll of 1,042 NetWare users conducted by Computerworld (U.S.) last month. And a nearly equal percentage said they expect to stay with NetWare for “as long as possible,” despite projections that show NetWare continuing to lose share in the server operating system market.

A February forecast by Gartner Inc. projected that the four per cent of global server operating system sales that Novell held in 2002 will decline to 1.3 percent by 2006. Novell introduced NetWare in 1983, long before Windows ran on servers. And by the early 1990s, NetWare had captured 70 per cent of the network operating system market.

– With files from IDG News Service