Novell brands its own open-source religion

To perk up revenue from open-source software, Novell readies an open-source identity-management package and desktop Linux suite.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
4 min read
Novell is readying two major product launches meant to make its open-source software more palatable to corporate customers.

Later this month, Novell will officially unveil Bandit, an open-source identity management project that was quietly started earlier this year, Chief Technology Officer Jeff Jaffe told CNET News.com.

Then in July, Novell will ship a major upgrade to its Linux desktop suite, called Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, Jaffe said.

The initiatives, along with enhancements to Novell's Linux server operating system, are meant to ramp up Novell's revenue from open-source software and position the company as an alternative to Microsoft.

But rather than take on Microsoft across the board, Novell is picking areas it thinks are ready for adoption by a significant number of users within corporations, Jaffe said.

"With all due respect to the zealots of open source, it's not going to win the game if it's not focused on (enterprise) customer needs," he said.

"We got the (open-source) religion, but we're going to proselytize the world by seeing where the world is today...rather than seeing where we want the world to be," said Jaffe.

Novell's embrace of Linux and open-source technology has been in place since Novell's 2004 acquisition of Linux distributor Suse and 2003 purchase of open-source company Ximian.

Novell's strategy is to retain customers by providing a road map to Linux and open-source software, particularly for NetWare customers and partners. For example, the next version of Open Enterprise Server will use Xen virtualization software to run Linux and NetWare on the same machine, Jaffe said.

However, Novell has come under fire from financial analysts who argue that the company should be faster growing its revenue from Linux.

"Novell is pretty well-defended, but the issue is (whether it can make its business) an exciting, vibrantly growing ecosystem, not just a business that's growing slightly," said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata. "It's fumbling a little bit in the dark because its business model is shifting."

Eyeing open-source IDs
In the area of identity management, Novell has a well-established line of directory products and server software that authenticates network access. Now Novell is hoping to use the Bandit project to make open-source software more mature.

Jeff Jaffe Jeff Jaffe
CTO, Novell

Bandit is a project Novell is currently sponsoring and helping to develop, but because it's open source, anyone can download the code and make additions. The Bandit project aims to create a set of open-source components for standards-based identity-related services. Novell is seeking to enlist open-source developers to build on the company's initial code for network sign-on, policy-based administration and other directory-related services, according to the Bandit Web site.

"We're creating an infrastructure to allow anything--a device, a user, an application, an operating system--to be managed by an identity-management framework, Jaffe said.

Bandit will make use of Higgins, an open-source project, backed by both Novell and IBM, that's meant to give end users more control over managing their passwords for various Internet sites.

Identity management is an area that's well suited to open-source projects, analysts said.

"It would make a lot of sense to be able to look at the code because a lot of identity management is the connectors you need to all the various systems," said Delphi Group analyst Dan Keldsen, noting that many packaged applications have proprietary methods for authenticating access.

While Novell thinks that open-source identity-management products are not yet mature enough for corporate use, the company is betting big that Linux desktops will finally appeal to corporate technology managers, even if the adoption occurs gradually.

The company intends to ship Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 in July and market it to a segment of office workers.

Specifically, SLED 10 is designed for knowledge workers who use a handful of applications during the course of the day, including Web browsers and desktop productivity applications. The company is deliberately not targeting so-called corporate power users, who have more demanding needs, or consumers, Jaffe said.

Windows of opportunity
He argued that corporate customers will need to make some sort of decision regarding their desktop software in 2007, which is when Microsoft is expected to release Windows Vista.

"A wise IT manager will know about the alternative--it just makes sense to do a (Linux desktop) pilot," Jaffe said. He added that the combination of Linux on the desktop and server is advantageous to customers because of lower administration and training costs.

The SLED 10 package itself, which includes Novell's desktop version of Linux and an OpenOffice-derived application suite, is a significant boost from the previous version and, as such, is a more viable alternative on corporate PCs, he said.

The operating system will take full advantage of graphics cards to let people tilt windows on their side and have overlapping transparent windows. It will also have sophisticated search software and better device support, he said.

Illuminata's Eunice said that displacing the incumbent Microsoft Windows is a tough sell, even if the overall cost is lower. "It's an uphill battle to explain to most organizations why they would replace something they are already doing with something very similar but different," he said.

Jaffe argued that corporate customers continue to warm to open-source products because the products are cheaper and are based on standards, which lessens the "lock-in" that customers usually must have to vendors.

"Frankly, I see (open source) as the future for every area," Jaffe said. "Given that open source now has a certain level of respectability, and given that we have learned how to monetize the investments in open source, why not go open source?"