Linux push breathes new life into Novell for some IT execs

Users give NetWare another chance as product integration moves are on tap

Attendees at Novell Inc.'s BrainShare conference this week will hear more product announcements related to the company's Linux strategy, but the bigger news may be the smiling faces of Novell officials and many users.

The reason: After suffering through a protracted period of decline, Novell and its flagship NetWare technology have acquired new life following the company's purchases of Linux software vendors Ximian Inc. and SUSE Linux AG, several users and analysts said.

In fact, some users who previously had bad impressions of Novell are now buying its products because of its Linux-oriented strategy, said James Taylor, a consultant at The East Cobb Group Inc. in Marietta, Ga. For example, Taylor said, a medical device maker that he wouldn't name is installing six NetWare-based servers for file and print functions, plus six Linux servers that are running NetWare services under the open-source operating system.

Boscov's Department Store LLC in Reading, Pa., gave up on NetWare several years ago, said Joe Poole, manager of technical support at the 40-store retail chain. But he and other IT managers at Boscov's met with a Novell salesman last week to discuss, among other things, the possible use of Linux on its 1,200 desktops.

"We did write Novell off with NetWare," Poole said, noting that Boscov's primarily migrated to Windows-based servers. "But I'm more excited about SUSE than ever before because of Novell's purchase of them." He added, though, that SUSE users may have to pay higher prices to Novell.

A spokesman for Novell wouldn't disclose details about product announcements due to be made at BrainShare, which is being held in Salt Lake City. But he said Novell plans to highlight "synergies between the products of companies" it has acquired.

One move the company recently made that it didn't announce was the official relocation of its headquarters to Waltham, Mass., where most of its top executives, including CEO Jack Messman, work.

The company filed papers with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about two months ago to indicate the move from Provo, Utah, said spokesman Bruce Lowry in an interview.

Lowry said no jobs have been lost or moved, and that about 2,000 Novell workers continue to work in the Provo area, with about 500 in the Waltham office. Novell also still operates a small Cambridge, Mass., office.

Asked why a news release wasn't considered necessary, Lowry said, "We didn't think it was a big deal. It was purely a paper move." Also, a news release would only have made Provo workers worry about their jobs when the jobs were all secure, he said.

Local newspapers in Salt Lake City and Boston knew about the move around the time of the filing, he said.

Since that time, some press releases have datelined Novell news from Waltham, Mass., and the official Novell Web site does indicate the Waltham address.

Taylor said he expects Novell to announce that it has integrated its ZENworks management software with Ximian's Red Carpet Enterprise tools to offer improved management of Linux PCs, a pairing that several users are also anticipating.

Earl Perkins, an analyst at Meta Group Inc., said users should also expect products that bring together pieces of the technology Novell has acquired with its security, identity management and Web application development software.

More centrally, however, Novell's Linux drive has refocused the company and revitalized its core NetWare services as a companion to SUSE Linux, Perkins said. "This gives promise to anybody who wants to listen that there is an operating system on par with Microsoft for Linux," he added. "I see a lot of spring in the step at Novell."

Still, some users will have pointed questions for Novell executives at BrainShare. For example, George Raetzke, a senior systems programmer at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in DeKalb, said he wants to know "exactly what are the pluses and minuses of running different NetWare services on the NetWare or the Linux kernel. Of course, that's politically a hard thing for them to answer."

Raetzke wants to be able to justify moving NIU's NetWare services to Linux but can't if "we have to spend hundreds of man-hours to get something that provides only a 3% improvement in performance."

Buying SUSE "was definitely a good direction" for Novell to take, said Brad Staupp, a senior support analyst at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan. He added that he's worried about centralized desktop management, but he hopes that will be addressed by the expected integration of ZENworks and Red Carpet.


New Software

Novell announced these products at last week's CeBIT show in Germany:

SUSE Linux 9.1 Personal and Professional editions, both based on the Linux 2.6 kernel. Priced at $29.95 and $89.95, respectively.

GroupWise 6.5, an upgrade of Novell's end-user collaboration software that will run on Linux separately from NetWare. No charge for existing GroupWise users.

ZENworks Patch Management, an add-on to ZENworks systems management software. Priced at $18 per device.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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