Novell users seek answers following $2.2B sale to Attachmate

Customers mostly in the dark about the future of Novell's products following company's sale to Attachmate, Microsoft-led consortium

The complex $2.2 billion sale of Novell Inc. and its copyrights to Attachmate Corp. and a consortium led by Microsoft Corp. has left users wondering about the future of the combined company's product lines, and about Microsoft's still-unclear role in the transaction.

Bob Schaber, network operations manager for the Dublin, Ohio, city government, said his biggest questions about the deal focus on which Novell products Attachmate will continue developing and what its long-term plans for those products will be.

The city government runs Novell's Open Enterprise Server and its Teaming and Conferencing applications.

"We're really comfortable with their product lines and how well they work," Schaber said. "As long as they keep developing them the way they have in the past, we will keep using them."

Schaber added that he also wants to know the implications of Microsoft's involvement in the acquisition. Novell and Attachmate said that CPTN Holdings LLC, a consortium of as-yet unidentified technology companies organized by Microsoft, is paying $450 million for 882 Novell patents as part of the acquisition.

Microsoft acknowledged its role in the deal but declined to offer more than a vague statement from Horacio Gutierrez, the software vendor's deputy general counsel.

In a terse message posted on its Web site, Novell said that its copyrights for the Unix operating system are not part of the sale to CPTN, but it didn't elaborate.

In a blog post, Gartner Inc. analyst Earl Perkins pointed to the uncertainty of Microsoft's role and noted, "Time (and SEC filings) will provide a clearer answer. It makes open-source and Linux users of all stripes nervous, though, until we know more."

An Attachmate spokesman promised that "current road maps and release schedules [of both Attachmate and Novell products] will stay intact. Our priority is to 'do no harm' to the successful stand-alone operations of all companies as we integrate."

Attachmate is owned by an investment group led by Francisco Partners, Golden Gate Capital and Thoma Bravo. It sells terminal emulation tools, application integration tools, legacy migration products, and systems and security management software from NetIQ.

Novell, founded in 1979 as a PC maker before shooting to prominence about four years later with the unveiling of its NetWare LAN technology, currently sells collaboration tools, identity management software, directory services, virtualization products and the SUSE iteration of Linux.

Perkins said that he doesn't expect any changes to the Novell and Attachmate product lines in the immediate aftermath of the deal, which is expected to close in the first quarter of 2011.

"This technology has been around a long time; they have a big customer base. It's not likely at this particular phase, and probably not for more than a year, that you are going to see any major shifts in what Attachmate is going to do with Novell," he said.

He did offer this advice to Novell users: "Make your feelings known to Attachmate on a variety of topics, not the least of which is ongoing maintenance and support contracts for existing Novell deployments." Perkins noted that maintenance issues typically arise following acquisitions -- as they did most recently after Oracle Corp. acquired Sun Microsystems Inc.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Chris Kanaracus and Joab Jackson of the IDG News Service contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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