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Examining Novell and Red Hat

Novell: Haunted by the Past, Enticed by the Future

Novell executives don't come right out and say the company is competing head-to-head with Microsoft. In fact, Novell CTO Alan Nugent ducked our direct question by saying, "I don't think a day goes by when someone in the data business doesn't compete with Microsoft in some fashion or another." Still, with a huge application stack that can run on Linux, a steady buildup of Linux support and development talent, and the acquisitions of SuSE and Linux desktop software maker Ximian, it's clear the company is making a serious bid to attract disenchanted Microsoft enterprise customers with a solution that extends from back end to front. To succeed, Novell will have to win back some disenchanted customers of its own.

Novell has been quietly laying the groundwork for its open-source strategy over the past few years. While continuing to support lackluster but entrenched product lines such as GroupWise and NetWare, the company incorporated Linux technology into ZENworks and developed its flagship product, eDirectory, for Linux. These moves gave Novell an excuse to start training its engineers in Linux; as a result, when the time came for Linux acquisitions, the technologists had experience with development and support.

With Novell's new acquisitions, the company offers a soup-to-nuts, "Microsoft-free" product lineup. Furthermore, based on company history, we expect Novell, like IBM, to become a legion of Linux desktops connected to Linux servers, with proprietary Novell middleware tying it all together. If an enterprise assigns value to that proprietary layer, Novell becomes the no-brainer Linux server and desktop provider.

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