Novell: Not Your Father's NetWare Company Anymore

With public utterances of some mild cuss words and jokes about Utah and religion, Chris Stone did his level best to convince listeners that today's Novell is not the Novell

March 17, 2004

3 Min Read
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With public utterances of some mild cuss words and jokes about Utah and religion, Chris Stone did his level best Tuesday to convince listeners that today's Novell is not the Novell of yore.

Of course, even Stone admitted that many of the attendees at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco might not even be familiar with the legacy of Novell, NetWare, and the company's strong links to the Mormon church.

"Those of you here who are 35 years or older have heard of Novell," said Stone, the company's vice chairman, at the opening of his keynote speech. "Those of you who are younger probably don't have a clue about what the hell they [Novell] do."

What the hell? From Novell? While the sometimes off-color adjectives in Stone's speech might have been startling in their own right (given the company's strait-laced history), what's probably even more shocking to both longtime NetWare users and the open source community is Novell's bet-the-company gamble on Linux, a choice Stone tried to explain Tuesday.

"You can make money with open source," Stone said, as part of an explanation for Novell's decision last year to purchase Linux leaders SuSE and Ximian. "That's why we spent $260 million buying companies, to drive future revenue," Stone said. "We made a $260 million bet there's money in this business."There better be, because Novell's flagship NetWare -- once the overwhelming leader in the network operating system market -- is now down from a 70 percent share to about 11 percent, Stone said. While he didn't exactly electrify the open source attendees here Tuesday (maybe it was the ungodly 8:15 a.m. start time for his talk that kept people comatose), Stone was confident and convinced that Novell can make a go of it selling services and applications atop Linux, in the same way it sold NetWare.

"It's all about customer service," he said, both during his speech and in a quick Q&A afterwards. "We had to make a decision to move from NetWare to Linux, realizing that the value is higher up. The value is not in the OS, but much higher up the stack."

Pretty strong stuff from Novell, a company that once guarded its base-level networking technologies tighter than the Holy Grail. From his loose, confident tone, Stone clearly showed that he isn't being restrained by anyone at the top of the company, a problem that caused him to leave Novell in the late 1990s.

So far, it seems like Novell is off to a good start, as reviews of its initial Linux forays are generally positive. To stoke the troops, Stone might want to work on his stump speech a bit more, since both his slide-show jokes and attempts to fire up the crowd with some anti-SCO invective fell as flat as a pledge for higher taxes. (Note to Stone: If you're looking for coder stereotypes, shaved heads and tattoos are more timely than the "purple mohawks" your dated quips referenced.)

For Novell, however, any talk that made joking references to Utah, religion and operating-system devotion is a step in the right direction. Now, the hard part for Stone will be convincing the old and potential Novell customers to join him on the new path.0

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