Novell touts integrated suite at BrainShare

Users say they will look at open-source package as alternative to Microsoft

SALT LAKE CITY -- Novell Inc. is taking a page from Microsoft Corp.’s marketing playbook while trying to sidestep its juggernaut rival.

Users and analysts at the Waltham, Mass.-based vendor’s annual BrainShare conference here this week were cautiously optimistic that the latest strategy will bear more fruit than past Novell turnaround efforts.

At the conference, Novell touted its software as an integrated suite of products that run on its SUSE Linux operating system. For instance, Novell unveiled a low-priced bundle of office and back-end applications aimed at enterprise workgroups.

Novell officials contend that the integrated SUSE Linux-based offerings -- ranging from security and identity software such as AppArmor and eDirectory to management offerings like ZenWorks, desktop applications like GroupWise, Hula and a new custom version of OpenOffice 2.0 -- are cheaper and easier to manage than the Windows equivalents.

Longtime Novell customer Robert McInerney, North American information systems infrastructure manager at TRW Automotive Holdings Corp., said he is “intrigued” by Novell’s new customized version of OpenOffice, which offers more compatibility with Microsoft Office’s file formats, fonts and Visual Basic scripts than the open-source version.

McInerney said the Livonia, Mich.-based auto parts supplier will look into running the software on its 9,000 PCs.

Novell has tangled with Microsoft several times over the years, coming out worse for wear each time. This time, the outcome will be different, argued Ronald Hovsepian, Novell’s president and chief operating officer. “What the next generation of users will want is value,” he said.

Novell’s new Open Workgroup Suite includes the Linux version of Open Enterprise Server, its GroupWise messaging software, ZenWorks, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop and OpenOffice. The bundle is priced at $110 per user, plus $75 per user a year in maintenance.

“Novell can clearly offer a broader scope of products than [Linux rival] Red Hat directly can,” said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. “The strategy does seem to be moving ahead.”

During the conference, Novell also showed off the latest beta of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, which is slated to ship in May. The company also demonstrated the desktop version of SUSE Linux 10, which offers 3-D graphics and an integrated search engine.

Hoping to begin a transition to SUSE Linux, Novell continues to encourage NetWare users to move to its Open Enterprise Server, which offers both NetWare and SUSE Linux. At the same time, Novell promised to support NetWare 6.5 until 2015.

That pleased loyalists such as Edmund Weber, an IT director at the University of Regensburg in Germany, which has long stored more than 40TB of data for 30,000 students and professors on NetWare servers and doesn’t plan to move to SUSE Linux until 2009.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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