Save us from middle management and teenagers!

That had to happen, and it had to be announced. Novell and Microsoft have basically extended their collaboration, although the point of such a partnership seems unclear to both of them if you read the fine print. On the one hand, Microsoft bought yet another share of Novell, this time for 100 millions (ah, those services contractors always end up lowering their fees) while Novell gets another cash infusion and keeps its marketing differentiator.


Matt Asay wrote a few days ago that Microsoft is essentially playing a dangerous game, one that could very well end up cannibalizing its own market by trying to pin Novell as a different and compelling Linux vendor. It is a subtle and interesting opinion, but I don’t think it actually flies.


Rather, I think that while Matt analyses the nature of the deal between Microsoft and Novell in a very compelling way, his prediction about Novell eventually winning the game in the end because of its partnership with Microsoft misses the point. What Matt expresses, I believe, is the point of view that many share inside Novell’s middle management circles. Which does not mean it’s bogus or irrelevant: It merely ignores another, central factor: Novell has actually been bought for good, and it’s just a vassal of a private monopoly. What is thought inside these middle management circles may not be what is being discussed elsewhere, higher up the food chain inside Novell.


One of the very sad aspects to this deal, and one that is often overlooked, is that Novell does not, did not, and will not need Microsoft’s partnership to succeed and thrive business-wise. Novell had and still has one of the most compelling value proposition without Microsoft out there. The problem is that Novell was and is in dire need of cash, and Microsoft was the one who was the most eager to bring a solution in this regard. Novell had a declining business line with its Netware products, and their Linux offerings were good, probably compelling, but they came in way too early. Those were the times of Jack Messman. Those were the times where SCO was patent-trolling half of the world. Those were times that saw the birth of Groklaw… But I digress. Novell still has one of the best offerings out there for Linux:

  • a great distribution for the enterprise and another, very popular one for the “community” (OpenSuse)

  • a certified, enterprise class Linux server platform that is distributed on the IBM mainframe offerings. Aside Red Hat, no other Linux vendor enjoys that position, although Canonical could join the fray.

  • management tools of all kinds, including security and authentification technologies

  • a very profitable, multiplatform groupware solution.

And last but not least, a shrinking(?) but still very nice customers’ portfolio. All this is not due to Microsoft. Nothing in the products and solutions mentioned above loses anything of its value. But here’s the catch: Most of these offerings generate revenue in a market where Linux enjoys a solid or rapidly growing share on the desktops, which is presently not the case. Novell is thus left out there finding growth and business opportunities. And just like in the tale, here comes Microsoft…


I don’t think enterprise customers want to switch to Linux in order to better stay with Microsoft. Some actually refuse such a deal, and there Novell loses pretty often. But what I also see is the buying process of some customers. Your job as a CIO/CFO/CLO (Chief Legal Officer) is to minimize the risks. And sometimes, you’re ready to do very ridiculous things to have no risk happening. So what does the Novell/Microsoft partnership amount to? In some -unfortunate- cases, it can be seen as a helpful insurance contract. Now, if I were the CEO in such a company, I would be having a serious conversation with my team about signing up for an insurance covering this kind of oddities. But fear is a powerful motivator, and many fall in its trap… especially corporate management.

Yet it could be worse: You could fall subjugated by Redmond, such as Patrick Durusau, the ODF editor. It’s sad to see such an expert turning upside down and seeing the invisible hand of IBM (ah, we hadn’t seen it since the eighties!) everywhere. Worse: According to Mr Durusau, Brazil, India, Venezuela, South Africa along with the countries who supported the appeals are nothing less than teenager; and whining, badly brought up teenagers at that. We shall thus take the advice of Mr Durusau: Be reasonable ! Submit! Resistance is futile! You don’t know what’s good for you! But does Microsoft know, Mr Durusau?

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