March 24, 2005

Commentary: Novell walking the walk of a true Linux company

Author: Joe Barr

SALT LAKE CITY -- I had an abbreviated schedule here on Day 4 as the main phase of Brainshare 2005 drew to a close. BrainShare will continue Thursday and Friday, but
the press and the outside vendors will be gone. It'll be quality time
for Novell and its customers. So I'll use the occasion to provide a
wrap-up of the conference rather than another daily summary.

I struck up a conversation with yet another Novell customer at breakfast
this morning. He was thrilled with the company's move to Linux and commented: "I
think Microsoft should really begin to worry about Linux with Novell
behind it." I told him about the truck I had seen towing the MS
billboard around the Salt Palace earlier in the week, and he laughed,
saying, "That truck driver better not get too close to this crowd."

The keynote

This morning's keynote featured a sales pitch by Utah governor Jon
Huntsman, followed by demos of Identity Management and Novell Desktop
Linux. The demos were much more interesting than the governor's talk,
unless you are considering a move to Utah and wanted to hear 50 times in
30 minutes that Utah is the greatest state in the nation.

The first Novell demo team went through the process of hiring a new
employee and using Identity Management to allow him to provision himself
with equipment and services. Since the new employee was coming to
Novell from a "trusted source," he was able to bring all of his personal
demographics aboard Novell simply by clicking on his old employer and
logging in. A few clicks and his provisioning request was done. His
manager got the request immediately, and with one or two clicks of his
own, authorized it. The new employee was then issued his laptop, cell
phone, and so on.

Not long after that, they had to let the new employee go, and the
de-provisioning was just as easy, if not easier. Behind the scenes, all
the applications that need to know about employee access were constantly
up-to-date on what access rights the employee had -- however briefly --
and then didn't have. I can see this selling in larger enterprises, no
doubt about it.

The Identity Management demo was followed by Nat Friedman and another
Novell engineer from the desktop group, who came on stage to demo some
of the new desktop stuff in GroupWise for both the Windows and Linux
versions of the tool. They showed off some new views -- some of it
looked like it had been copied from Evolution -- as well as the IM
capability of GroupWise.

After lunch, I had an opportunity to interview Miguel de Icaza. That
interview will appear next week. The rest of the day was spent getting
ready for my early morning flight back home in the morning and thinking about
what I had heard and seen at BrainShare this week.

The wrap-up

BrainShare is a high-energy, non-stop kind of event. Every day is
filled with activities, and each evening offers some sort of
get-together. The Novell staff -- at every level -- is focused on the
job at hand and working hard to see it gets done right. I was
exhausted by Wednesday afternoon just trying to keep up. I could see
fatigue starting to set in on others as well.

It appears to me that Novell knows exactly what it's about in its
marriage of proprietary and free/open source products. Its donation of
a couple hundred thousand lines of code from its own proprietary email
server to the open source community shows that it understands how to be
a good member of both communities.

The potential for an explosive mixture of Ximian GNOME and SUSE KDE has
been avoided with careful steps and a commitment to respecting both
environments. By offering its customers their choice of desktop
environment, Novell has taken the more difficult technical path in order
to achieve a competitive advantage over distributions which offer either
one or the other. In my opinion, it's the correct path.

I was not a big fan of Novell Desktop Linux when it was first announced
and released last year, but I leave BrainShare convinced that it is a
necessity for successful entry to the enterprise desktop market. Again,
Novell could have taken the easier path and left it at that, but it did not. SUSE LINUX Professional will continue to offer a new release
every six months for the casual, hobby, or home user. NDL will lag in
features but be strengthened with extra hardening and reliability.

The bottom line for me is that Novell is a brand new kind of Linux
company. And when I say Linux company, I mean that from top to bottom
they are committed to Linux. It's more than marketing talk. Novell is
walking the walk. Novell has strengths, resources, and a global channel
presence that simply doesn't exist in any other Linux distribution.
It is not standing outside gazing longingly into the enterprise; it is standing in the center of enterprise and bringing Linux into it.

Novell has removed any doubts I may have had about its entry into the
Linux distribution business being a very good thing for Linux; and it
believes that it will be a very good thing for its own business. I hope
we're both right.

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