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Novell's big opportunity

Novell could still crater. But it's looking increasingly unlikely that its SUSE Linux or Identity Management businesses will. These can provide the backbone for growth across the board. I still wish the company would dump the patent agreement as it fou

A friend called me on Friday to ask what I thought about Novell. "Does it have a chance?" he asked?

The answer is increasingly, "Yes."

I never would have thought I'd be saying that, but whatever the cause of Novell's resurgence, it feels like the company is making a serious comeback. I've seen it with my own company, where an increasing number of our customers are requesting SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES).

Yes, it has yet to displace its competition: Ubuntu has more momentum but still lacks a winning revenue model that may hamper its transition from community standard to enterprise standard, while Red Hat continues to barrel forward yet doesn't feel as invincible as before.

But Novell's progress in its Linux business is nothing to sneeze at, with 65 percent growth in its last quarter. That progress is a direct result of its interoperability agreement with Microsoft, a relationship it has been extending of late.

I've harshly criticized this agreement because of the patent cloud it has placed over Linux, but after talking with a range of Novell SUSE/Microsoft customers about it, I'm increasingly convinced that the only company that is sold on the important of patent protection in the deal is Microsoft. As one recent customer noted to me, "The patent coverage for SUSE had exactly zero relevance to us in making our decision to go with SUSE."

Customers may be indifferent to the patent pact, but Novell's alignment with Microsoft has been very good so far for its business. Were that the only thing it was doing, however, it might not be much to cheer. Novell has been very busy on a range of different fronts:

Yes, the company still has some businesses that need serious work (or better yet, to be sold), but its core Linux-plus-identity management story is selling well. Novell has a ways to go, but this is the first time I've felt that it's actually making progress.

Novell could still crater. But it's looking increasingly unlikely that its SUSE Linux or Identity Management businesses will. These can provide the backbone for growth across the board. I still wish the company would dump the patent agreement as it fouls the water for other open-source companies and projects, but I'm comfortable that Novell isn't selling patents as the reason to buy from it, though Microsoft may continue to do so.