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Microsoft offers goodies to lure Novell customers

Firm will pay some transition costs for companies that want to move from the NetWare OS onto servers running Windows.

Microsoft announced on Tuesday a program that will pay some transition costs for companies that want to move from Novell's NetWare operating system onto servers running Windows.

The software titan said it will offer up to $600 per server in professional-services credit to companies that agree to make the switch, up to a maximum of $15,000. In order to get the subsidy for third-party services, NetWare users have to switch to Windows and buy at least 50 client-access licenses per server.

Microsoft sees the uncertainty surrounding NetWare's future as an opportunity to win more customers over to Windows Server 2003. Some Novell customers are concerned that the company's focus on Linux could result in the abandonment of NetWare.

The Microsoft program partly grew out of a discussion that Martin Taylor, the software behemoth's platform strategy general manager, had with Novell resellers at Microsoft's worldwide partner conference this summer in Toronto. The resellers said that Novell's forays into Linux are prompting even die-hard NetWare customers to consider a switch--either to Windows or Linux.

"They agreed that many customers are now putting their head up and saying, 'What else should we look at?'" Taylor said. In addition to the subsidies, Microsoft is courting would-be switchers with a collection of advice, technical support and third-party services.

But Novell says Microsoft was already targeting its customers at that Toronto conference, with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer singling out NetWare customers as ripe for the picking.

"They painted that target sometime back," said Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry. Lowry said Novell is trying to quell fears that NetWare has no future. The company plans to ship a product in February, known as Open Enterprise Server, that will essentially combine an updated version of the NetWare kernel with SuSe's latest enterprise Linux server OS.

"You can buy this product and you get the NetWare that you know and love but you also get Linux," Lowry said.

There has been an ongoing war of words between the two companies--a war that continues despite a recent legal detente. Microsoft said last week that it would pay $536 million to resolve an antitrust complaint over NetWare, though Novell filed a new suit over WordPerfect later that same week.

Ballmer took on Linux in a recent memo to customers, prompting Novell to set up a Web site aimed at countering Microsoft's message.