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Q&A: Novell will make 'immature' Linux robust and reliable, CEO says

By Don Tennant
April 15, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Editor's Note: In a letter to Linux Weekly News, Novell Inc. Chairman and CEO Jack Messman later apologized for calling Linux an "immature operating system" in this interview (see story). In the apology, he stressed that "Novell wouldn't be taking this bold step if we didn't feel Linux was a solid operating system."

SALT LAKE CITY -- At Novell Inc.'s BrainShare user and partner conference here, Chairman and CEO Jack Messman yesterday announced that Linux would serve as the migration path for the company's flagship NetWare network operating system (see story). Shortly after making that announcement, Messman spoke with Computerworld about the decision to adopt Linux even though he considers it to be an immature operating system.

Your plan is for NetWare 7 to be a set of services running on both the NetWare kernel and the Linux kernel. What would be the user benefit of sticking with NetWare rather than migrating to Linux? Linux is an immature operating system right now. It hasn't had somebody like Novell worrying about making it robust, reliable and scalable for very much time. We think we can bring that to the Linux kernel. So in the short term, the advantage to CIOs is with NetWare, they have a more mature and robust operating system. Over time, that gap will diminish.

Novell Chairman and CEO Jack Messman
Novell Chairman and CEO Jack Messman
So you're talking about Novell making changes to the Linux kernel itself? When you're developing [a Linux offering], you find either glitches [that need to be fixed] or a capability you need that you can put into the kernel. We expect most of our effort is going to be in services. Occasionally we'll develop tools to facilitate our services, and we'll occasionally make contributions [of those tools] to the [Linux] kernel itself. If you make improvements to the kernel, you have to donate them to the community. But the open-source community doesn't have to accept them.

Was there ever a point where you saw Linux as a threat and then decided to embrace it rather than fight it? We never saw it as a threat. In the last year, we saw it as an opportunity to answer the question as to what the migration path is for NetWare. Because people said, "It's a dead-end path, so maybe I ought to switch." With all the Linux on Intel boxes coming out that significantly reduce your costs, that became a viable alternative, and we started seriously looking at it. And the customers told us that's what they were thinking about.
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