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Making a decision on NetWare's future

Novell Vice Chairman Chris Stone says the company will keep its flagship operating system in maintenance mode as it gears up for Linux.

Robert Lemos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Robert Lemos
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Robert Lemos
10 min read
Throughout most of its history, Novell relied on the NetWare operating system to power its sales. But under relentless attack from Microsoft, Novell saw its share of the server operating system market shrivel away.

The company has since shifted its strategy to take advantage of Linux's growing popularity with enterprise customers. Novell now sees its future bound up with the development of NetWare applications and services that run on this upstart operating system.

But while management continues to stress its continued support for NetWare, the question of its flagship product lingers. Indeed, Novell customers have expressed concern that the company's new Linux focus might result in the abandonment of NetWare. CNET News.com recently spoke with Chris Stone, Novell's vice chairman, to find out what the future holds--for Linux and for NetWare.

Are customers worried about the direction that Novell and NetWare is headed?
Customers don't necessarily buy OSes--they buy the services on top. In many cases the reason that, say, Microsoft is so successful is because they differentiate themselves with the Office application suite. We didn't do that.

So now we have a chance on a brand new platform to get it right, to do it the right way--the complete stack. And the openness of Linux is so much freer. They can try something, and if they don't like it, they can try something else. They don't get locked. And that's why you see such a burning desire--both from an economic as well as a technical perspective--to move to Linux.

It's also a common infrastructure upon which to build applications and services.
Which is why we're going there. What you see us doing is a very strategic move. In April, we announced that we were going to take NetWare services--file, print, directory, et cetera--and we were going to place them on Linux and we called that NetWare 7. So that should be evidence that NetWare is not going anywhere, but continuing.

Are you saying the applications and services are going to continue to be developed in the future, whereas it is uncertain what will happen to the NetWare OS?
The NetWare OS will go on forever. That was my point: That OSes never die.

But you are saying it will go into maintenance mode.
Well, there will be a maintenance mode, but there will always be some functionality that we add to it. As I've said, we have already committed to do that. That's what NetWare 7 is. There will be additional functionality in NetWare because customers do want additional features.

You have likened this to Apple moving from the Macintosh to Mac OS X.
The point here is that we are not dropping anything to do with NetWare, we are adding Linux to it.
That's right. It is a very similar model in that all of the functionality and the services that were in the Mac now run on a completely different platform (that is essentially) FreeBSD, whereas in the past it was a proprietary platform.

It was very similar. But the Macintosh didn't go away and neither will NetWare. The point here is that we are not dropping anything to do with NetWare, we are adding Linux to it. Services is where the differentiation comes into play. Even in the Linux world--kernel to kernel--that really isn't the issue. The issue is what is you run on it. What are the services you are going to provide to customers?

What is your Linux strategy?
Linux to Novell is a huge opportunity for us. As you may have noticed, the amount of applications and services for Linux in the enterprise is very minimal. For 15-plus years Novell has been building very robust, enterprise-class applications and services, none of which exist today in a fairly commercial way for Linux.

And we see that as an opportunity...we also hear it from our customers. Customers are telling us that they want to move to a different platform--to this new platform. So, there you have it. It just makes sense.

If I came to you five years ago and asked what is NetWare, the answer would have been that it's an OS.
You are absolutely right. We said it's an OS. But the reality is that commoditization of technology continues to happen. Kernels are free. App servers are becoming commoditized. The same thing with Web servers. You have got to differentiate yourself further up the stack....It is natural for us to take what we have done on NetWare--what we commonly called an OS five years ago--and placed them on the Linux platform. Now you can mix and match. You couldn't do on NetWare. You couldn't do that on Windows either.

So, when we talk about NetWare in another five years...
People will still be buying NetWare.

Windows NT and OS/2 are still around and there is still support. But in most cases, you have to end up paying for it. Is that where NetWare the operating system is going to be in five years?
In five years, NetWare the OS will continue to be maintained by Novell. It will continue to be a supported platform. We will continue to do bug fixes and continue to do some features, as they are required. To directly answer your question, if it's going to go into some maintenance mode-- I can't answer that question. I can't see five years out. I wish I could.

If I'm a new customer and I want to buy NetWare applications running on the NetWare OS?
Then we will sell it to you and we will maintain it, and we will be happy about that.

But if we are talking about the application side of NetWare, is it more likely that I'll be getting NetWare with a Linux kernel underneath?
Will you be able to mix and match? You make the choice. That's what we are saying. You want to run those services on NetWare? Then fine, we'll support that. You want to run them on the Linux kernel? That's fine too. And the big advantage is that when you go to print from the Linux implementation, it will be completely compatible and interoperable with your NetWare implementation.

That is the beauty of this transition, because the Linux operating system is a lot like what we are used to. Strategically, it makes sense to us and it makes a lot of sense to our customers. You can do both, maintain both, and add functionality to both. But our commitment to NetWare has not waned by any stretch of the imagination and our commitment to Linux is certainly growing.

It also seems a trend needs to be reversed. NetWare has dropped from 70 percent of the market a little over a decade ago to 11 percent today.
I wouldn't call it reversing a trend. I have always referred to it as an opportunity. Linux is an opportunity for Novell to grow. It's that simple.

What are we really trying to do? Stop people from going to Microsoft. We don't want to push Microsoft servers. We don't want people to put in Unix servers. We want them to add NetWare or Linux servers.

On the Ximian side of things, you have a lot of software that could conflict. For example, GroupWise and Evolution. Where is all that going?
Nothing is going to die. That's beauty of this acquisition. Everything that Ximian was working on was a natural complement to what we were already doing. That's why it made so much sense to us. The only thing that's different is that we gain a desktop.

Are you going to continue to maintain four--three and a half--collaboration clients (GroupWise, NetMail, Evolution and Web-based front-end Virtual Office)?

We will become a big advocate for Mono. I hope Microsoft views it as a good thing.
They go after different audiences. So you have the GroupWise client, which is proprietary and runs on Windows. That will always be there because there is nothing replacing that. Then there is Evolution, which is a Linux-based client. It is an Outlook clone. You can connect that to a GroupWise back-end server. Then you have an opportunity for GroupWise to run on Linux.

From a developer standpoint, it seems it will be hard to maintain that many applications.
That's the trick for us to figure out.

What about the technologies lower down the application stack, such as Mono?
Mono is great. I like the idea very much of being able to run .Net applications on Linux and recompiling things written in C# to run on Linux. We will become a big advocate for Mono. I hope Microsoft views it as a good thing. The more .Net applications available to run on Linux should be a good thing for Microsoft. We have some services that we have been building in the security and identity and authentication space, which would be terrific additions to Mono.

And how are ZenWorks and Red Carpet going to fit together?
Again, a natural fit. ZenWorks, which is mainly a NetWare and Windows desktop management product, will now be completely augmented with Red Carpet, which is dedicated to Linux patch management and software distribution. We will blend the two together. It has only been three days now, so we don't have all the integration issues solved, but taking those two products and putting them together for both NetWare and Linux fills a huge void.

Is the decision to add Linux a complementary move or a migration move?
It comes down to the ability to be binary and to be cross-platform, if you will, to be able to develop our services on NetWare. They already exist there so take those and put them on Linux to eventually have a single user interface and management system.

But Linux is something new for Novell?
It's actually not all that new. We have been working on Linux for quite some time. It just wasn't exposed.

Well, Linux wasn't mentioned in any of your financial statements before the most recent one in June.
It was never anything that we went public with. We have been using it internally....We have decided strategically that's an area that we can impact and it's an area that our customers have been asking us to move into. They have also been asking us to provide interoperability between both environments. NetWare lives on, and there is no desire or plan to stop development. We have already stated we are shipping NetWare 6.5 right now and then there's 7.0. And it's the customer that decides what platform they want to run the service on.

It seems NetWare 7.0 is mainly going to be moving all these services to both Linux and the NetWare OS. So, you are basically able to give the customer some choice.
That's exactly what it is. Let the customer decide what they want to run it on. That's the opportunity that is lacking on Linux.

So you think that when faced with the choice customers will say, "You know, I want to run that on NetWare?"
They might. That's the beauty of it.

But what's the likelihood? It seems that you are moving this way because your customers are demanding Linux, not the NetWare OS.
Well, we are. We are moving that way because they say they want Linux. We get a choice to protect the economic model. If they say they are going to Linux and putting these services on Linux...that's good, that's terrific, so I can go there when I need to--so I will stay with NetWare for a little longer.

So it's showing people a path forward, that they don't make a choice to leave NetWare now.
Exactly, so you win both ways. What's wrong with that? I think we are saying the same thing.

But it seems you are saying that customers are looking toward NetWare services and applications running on Linux. When you offer people the ability to run on both NetWare and Linux in NetWare 7.0, how many do you think will choose the NetWare side?
Oh, I'm not going to tell you that but the benefit that Novell gets out of it is that they are both coming from Novell. Either way we have a customer base that stays with us. That's the trick in the age of software: keeping your customer base. So maintain your base, add value to it with NetWare. Go for the new base, make it interoperable with the existing one with Linux--I don't think you can get a better strategy out of this. There is nobody else doing it this way. Microsoft's not going to do this. Sun's not doing it.

When the Linux kernel 2.6 comes out, are you going to back port to the NetWare kernel? If IBM comes out with a cool new feature for Linux, will you put that into the NetWare kernel?
That's a good question--and that's a question that we will deal with when it hits. I don't want to go there right now. Those are the things you have to deal with, not just with new (kernel features), but anything up and down the stack. And how much of that you go back and put onto NetWare. And that depends on the demand for the functionality and demand of the service among the customer base.

It sounds like when Linux goes to 2.6, it's going to have features that are not available on the NetWare side.
That's right.

Wouldn't that make it a more compelling solution for your customers?
Again, that's up to them. That's exactly right. That's up to them. But we want to give them that choice.