When a company like Novell has sunk as far as it has, the first question to be resolved is whether the organization in question could have avoided its fate. In this case the answer is not so simple.
The acquisition of Suse Linux was probably its best chance at changing all that. This deal gave Novell the potential to put the experience and reputation of a longtime OEM behind a popular distribution of the open source OS at a time when rivals like Red Hat Software were still earning the trust of nervous corporate customers. Then, in a mind-blowingly bizarre turn, Novell formed an alliance with Microsoft Corp. in 2006 that to develop “para-virtualization” allowing users to run Linux application workloads on top of Windows, and Web services management of heterogeneous application environments. There was also talk of greater interoperability between Novell's eDirectory and Microsoft's Active Directory, as well as “translators” between MS Office and OpenOffice, but what most people focused on was Microsoft helping sell Linux through Novell, with “certificates” that implied Microsoft only considered those buying through this partnership to be true open source customers, and not, um, pirates. The overall impression was that Novell did not really believe open source was legal or viable without Microsoft’s backing. (I should add that Novell later said open source sales soared hundreds of per cent, but that’s not hard when you’re basically starting from nothing.)
There were other problems, of course, including the ouster of energizing CEO Jack Messman and the promotion of the lackluster Ron Hovsepian. More critical was the company’s insistence on remaining in so many product areas, rather than paring down and growing through increased focus. Did it make a lot of sense, as Gmail came to the fore, to keep on investing in office messaging? Did the world really need that alternative to Microsoft SharePoint which Novell couldn’t even bother to give a credible brand name? Perhaps the biggest mistake was the failure to recognize that one area of Novell’s business, its ZenWorks management portfolio, had the good reputation and decent sales to be a good spin-off business unencumbered by its parent’s challenges.
I don’t know what Attachmate will do with Novell, but it can’t do much worse than what Novell has done to itself.