Dr Faust, I presume?


If you’re a Novell fan such as I am, today has been a whirlwind of webcasts, e-mails, bulletin boards and more besides. Once I’d got over the shock of the Novell+Microsoft announcement (being as they’ve been at each other’s throats for years), I started to try and pick away at the outer shell and see what it was really all about from the inside.

You have already got the Slashdot demographic burning their copies of OpenSUSE and re-formatting their hard drives as we speak. That element will never go away, if anything, their views are not representative of IT users at large (large multinationals, big education etc.) and should be largely dismissed as myopic bigotry. The worst thing you can do at a time like this is go with your gut feeling and make a knee jerk reaction. I’ve been thinking about it all day, feeling negatively at first but then reason kicks in.

My initial reaction was how can you fuse two companies like this? Also, how can you fuse two companies that compete with each other in so many areas? Messaging, Servers, Desktops, Identity Management etc. The common complaint with Novell has always been great technology + bad marketing and company leadership. But for loyal techies, the company would have died out years ago. If the company ever needed the oxygen of publicity, this is certainly of Michael Jackson tent proportions!

Also, my first thought was that this was Novell+Microsoft lacing up the gloves to deal with Red Hat and Oracle. Novell don’t like Red Hat (#1 Linux company) and Microsoft don’t like Oracle (#1 Database company). Also, there are probably personal issues between Steve Ballmer and just about everyone ;-). However, if that were truly the case, the deal would not have been months in the making, as both parties would have you believe.

So then, is this deal eminently bad for Novell? Have they made their deal with Mephisto? It would appear so at first glance, but you have Open Source evangelists such as de Icaza, Friedman and Meeks throwing their weight behind it. One wonders what someone like Andreas Jaeger feels about it, he’s got as much to lose as most, but hasn’t publicly commented that I’ve seen. These aren’t stupid people, and they are also defenders of the OSS faith, if you like. You can be sure they’ve been over the paperwork like a rash before it was all signed, something Michael Meeks has alluded to already.

What should we read into this? Firstly, I’m not sure that much will change at all. It’s a good thing that Microsoft have finally broke down the barriers to working with Linux, they’ve realised that in the data centre first and foremost, it isn’t going to go away. My gut feeling too is that many people have spent the intervening years between XP and Vista to see just what desktop Linux has to offer, and seen the great strides that it has made (myself included).

If you have the technologists working together, it might mean a reduction in Microsoft bringing out patches that kill Novell products (but don’t bank on it just yet). Working in a large organisation, we try to procure best of breed at whatever we do, whether that be Microsoft, Solaris, Linux, NetWare or Mac. In point of fact, we have a healthy population of all of those platforms. Novell woke up to the fact years ago that customers don’t want a single vendor solution, they want to spread around the “love”. At the very least, not keeping your vendor eggs in one basket allows you to beat the other suppliers with that stick and play them off against each other.

IT customers are now smarter than they’ve ever been. They’ve got upgrade apathy and wonder just what’s in it for them. They don’t fall for the “faster, cheaper, better” arguments as much. They don’t fall over themselves to get sales people through the door. Budgets are generally smaller, expectations of the services gets ever higher and with that comes a sharper bargaining edge. Microsoft appear to have gone through this door, finally. Let customers run what suits them best, and don’t lecture them. There’s plenty of room for all, if we just tune our ethics slightly.

You have to remember that the software industry is relatively immature, and as such is still evolving at an exponential rate. Both Ballmer and Hovsepian were brazen about still competing with each other for business, but most customers have that mix of platforms I mentioned earlier, and it’s the vendors responsibility to open doors to each other to make it all work.

I have my doubts that Microsoft will bring that much to the table, but then deal is a day old. Let’s not over-react and give the partnership a chance. All I want is for Novell to still be around in 5 years time. If dovetailing with Microsoft is how they do this, then so be it. As long as the company continues it’s policy of mixed source and retains it’s independence, then maybe we’re all making more of this than there is.

Of course there is always a lot more to it than meets the eye, and I wouldn’t ever make a deal with Steve Ballmer, but each to their own. Michael Meeks is due to speak at our GUG event on the 22nd November, and it’s my guess he’ll be spending most of his time fielding questions about this very topic.

Let’s wait and see…


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