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Q&A: Novell CTO says acquisitions are reinvigorating the company

The purchases of Ximian and SUSE are transforming Novell, says Alan Nugent

By Todd R. Weiss
August 5, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - SAN FRANCISCO -- There has been a kit of activity surrounding Linux and open-source software at Novell Inc. since last August, when the company announced it was acquiring desktop Linux vendor Ximian Inc. (see story). Just three months later, Novell announced plans to buy SUSE Linux AG and bring it into the Novell fold (see story). Alan F. Nugent, chief technology officer at Waltham, Mass.-based Novell, discussed the company's Linux strategy.

When Novell announced its purchase of SUSE Linux, the reaction of many longtime Novell NetWare customers and the IT industry in general seemed to be very positive. But since the Ximian and SUSE announcements, Novell arguably hasn't kept up that marketplace excitement. Where did that public energy and enthusiasm go?
We clearly have had our heads down, that is absolutely true. The one thing that a lot of people in the investment community said to us when we were doing all this was, 'We're going to be watching you for execution, not for enthusiasm.' So we have been heads-down working on that [job].

Some analysts and other industry watchers commented during the acquisitions that the SUSE and Ximian deals could certainly pump new life into Novell and its products. But they also said that if Novell stuck to its old, stodgy ways of doing business, it could take SUSE and Ximian with it into the toilet. In which direction is the company heading since the deals were completed?

Alan F. Nugent, CTO at Novell
Alan F. Nugent, CTO at Novell
So far, things are going along right. The influence that we hoped to have was to reinvigorate the company. The enthusiasm of SUSE and Ximian has become absolutely infectious. In the areas where the touch points [between the product lines] are occurring, it's absolutely happening. The rest of the company is following suit.
Has it been difficult to bring together such disparate corporate cultures and make it work as a successful whole? As an example, we haven't lost anyone from Ximian [through resignations by disappointed workers]. Cross-pollination is happening. It isn't completely across the entire company yet, but I think we're doing some things to show that we want the new acquisitions to infuse the old ones.

Has there been much internal opposition to Novell's new direction with Linux and open-source?
The grumblers grumble, but the percentage of grumblers is declining. When I joined the company two years ago, there wasn't a malaise, but everyone was walking slowly and there wasn't any energy. It's put a spring in everybody's step. Often, acquisitions have meant death [for companies]. But we have embraced themanagement, the enthusiasm and the technology [of SUSE and Ximian]. We are doing a lot of cool stuff.

What are your thoughts about Novell's new direction with Linux?
I am completely committed to the open-source development model. I characterize this as a 'mixed-source' company. It's definitely a different company. I feel it. I see it. We probably have to be more visible in how big a change this has been.

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