Novell's Linux strategy worries some customers

Ambitious plan leads some customers to worry that the networking company may withdraw support for some of its legacy applications.

Novell's ambitious strategy for Linux has led some customers to worry that the networking company may withdraw support for some of its legacy applications.

Speaking at the company's Linux Big Picture Event on Thursday in London, executives told customers more about Novell's Open Enterprise Server, or OES, an upcoming product that will combine the company's NetWare operating system with SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9.

In the keynote speech at the event, Brian Green, Novell's European director of Linux solutions, said OES will let NetWare customers take advantage of the applications that are available for Linux and will allow SuSE Linux customers to use NetWare services on Linux.

"We appreciate that SuSE Linux provides a stable secure platform for business applications," Green said. "What we've done with Novell Open Enterprise Server is take network services, decouple them from the kernel and make them available on Linux. We've taken all the services you've got used to with NetWare--file system, printing engine--and made them available on Linux."

OES is scheduled for release in mid-February, according to a Novell representative.

But some NetWare customers were concerned that through embracing Linux and open-source applications, Novell may soon withdraw support for proprietary applications that are duplicated in its open-source stack. In particular, some customers highlighted the risk to GroupWise, Novell's e-mail and collaboration tool, which offers similar functionality to the open-source alternatives SuSE Linux Openexchange Server and Evolution.

James Cunnington, the IS support manager at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, said he is concerned that GroupWise is likely to be one of the first applications Novell will end support for.

"We use GroupWise as an e-mail system," Cunnington said. "But it now has a limited life, so it is earlier on our list of things to change."

He said he was also concerned about the future of NetWare. "NetWare has had a shrinking market share for such a long time that we have to be concerned," Cunnington said.

Sebastien Springbett, the head of ICT services at the arbitration organization ACAS, said that although he believes Novell may end support for Groupwise, it is likely to make the migration as easy as possible. He said NetWare's days are likely to be numbered, although over a longer time scale.

"In 20 years time I very much doubt NetWare will still exist," said Springbett. "At some time version 6 will stop being supported and Novell will provide an upgrade path to Linux."

Representatives from the Big Lottery Fund, which distributes money from the National Lottery, agreed that both Groupwise and NetWare were likely to be on their way out now that Novell's network services are being made available on Linux. "There's no point in them continuing to develop NetWare," said one support engineer.

Steve Brown, the European vice president of Novell, said the company would continue providing support for GroupWise in the immediate future. "Certainly in the short term," Brown said. He said GroupWise has advantages over Evolution such as scheduling, encryption and more formal support.

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