NetWare 6.5: Delivering on Linux Promise - Page 3

 By Paul Rubens
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So, with some network services like iFolder and iPrint having already been ported to Linux, and with the company making significant acquisitions in the Linux space — most recently, Boston, Mass-based Linux desktop management software maker Ximian — a couple of critical questions are raised. Does Novell plan to ditch the NetWare kernel at some time in the future and switch to Linux completely? And what does this mean for NetWare customers?

A clue comes from Novell itself. “For a long time NetWare has been called an OS, a platform, a kernel, or even a server, and we haven’t spent time correcting this. But we refer to it as a bundle or suite of services,” says Rick Maddox, director of product management for NetWare.

This looks suspiciously like a way of preparing the market for a shift of emphasis to Linux, which Maddox explains very simply: “NetWare 7.0 will have the option to run on the Linux or NetWare kernel.” It’s not clear what the Linux version will be called — even whether it will be branded ‘NetWare’ at all — but within two years Novell’s network services stack should be available on a choice of two platforms.

Pursuing a Linux strategy is ultimately all about getting people to use Novell’s services even if they don’t want NetWare — which NetWare’s decreasing market share clearly indicates they don’t. “The market share for NetWare has dwindled a bit for various reasons, and we have been looking to stem that with other services like ZENworks (Novell’s resource management software) and secure ID management,” says Maddox. “We are looking to expand NetWare’s reach, and the most promising avenue is through Linux. We are banking on a level of migration to Linux — both from Microsoft and from NetWare.

Analysts Approve of the Strategy

The move towards Linux makes sense for Novell, according to Dan Kusnetzky, vice president, system software at analyst IDC. “I don’t think Novell can reverse the decline of NetWare. The die is cast, and there’s no way of getting people to think about NetWare in the way they are thinking about Windows and Linux.” he says.

“People want what NetWare does, but they don’t want the product. So Novell is saying ‘Let’s quit insisting on NetWare, and let’s make our stack of software available on platforms that people do want,’” concludes Kusnetzky.

By disassociating its “suite of services” from any particular platform, Novell is hoping to have its cake and eat it too: it can keep existing NetWare customers happy by continuing development on the NetWare kernel for the time being, reassure new and existing customers that NetWare has a future (through a migration path to Linux), and potentially win over a significant number of the companies that will be moving to Linux over the next few years either from NetWare or away from an exclusively Microsoft-based environment.

So where does that leave the NetWare kernel/platform/operating system or whatever else people want to refer to it as? Earlier this month, Jack Messman, Novell’s chairman and CEO, made a statement that “NetWare is not going away. Period.”

But the truth is that at some time in the future it seems bound to be abandoned. Novell certainly doesn’t rule this out — in the long term, at least. Concludes Maddox: “In the foreseeable future we don’t see any movement away from NetWare, but we will adjust to what we see.”

» See All Articles by Columnist Paul Rubens

This article was originally published on Sep 4, 2003
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