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Novell Eyes Competition With Microsoft

Deal or No Deal

  • March 20, 2007
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

"We will compete against Microsoft in some areas, while cooperating in others," said Susan Heystee, Novell's VP of strategic alliances, reflecting remarks also made by several other top Novell officials at Novell's BrainShare users show this week. Specifically, Novell intends to compete in areas that include the desktop, virtualization, and management tools, despite the deal struck by the two big software vendors last fall.

"We plan to compete aggressively with Microsoft on the desktop," according to Michael Applebaum, senior product marketing manager at Novell. Beyond providing a full range of thick and thin clients, Novell will distinguish its desktop on the basis of price, he said, during one of a series of interviews with LinuxPlanet.

Carlos Monero-Luque, Novell's VP of product management for open source software, dubbed Novell's SuSE Linux Client, rolled out this week, "the $50 desktop with the $500 attitude."

In terms of virtualization, Novell hopes that customers will run Windows on top of its virtualization engine. Conversely, Microsoft hopes that users will operate SUSE Linux on top of Windows, according to Justin Steinman, also of Novell.

Virtualization management tools are also an important competitive differentiator for Novell, said Jeff Jaffe, senior VP and CTO, during a Novell press conference on Monday. Regardless of the merits of a company's application stack, or the lack thereof, "the manager of virtualization is the winner," he told reporters.

Heystee told LinuxPlanet that "coopetition" isn't unusual among technology companies. "But this is a rather unique breed of coopetition," she acknowledged.

As one part of the Novell-Microsoft deal, the two companies are supposed to be collaborating on "interoperability" between SuSE Linux and Windows in the areas of virtualization, the desktop, and directory services.

So how does this agreement play out in reality against lingering rivalries between the long-term competitors? Novell officials came up with a variety of answers. As Steinman sees the industry, Linux and Windows are the only two OS that will still be around a few years from now. Users find other types of Unix much too expensive, he contended.

But he also suggested that, for Linux to make more headway in enterprise environments, interoperability with Windows is essential. "And do you want a Linux that'll work with Windows? Then you'll pick SUSE Linux," Steinman said.

Heystee admitted that the pact has opened up a number of new sales doors for Novell with Windows customers. The two companies are working a "common agenda" of interoperability, she said. The week after stunning the industry with their unanticipated alliance, the two companies started working with users around the agreed upon areas.

"From a field perspective, there's been pent up demand among a number of large enterprises for interoperability," according to Heystee. "But I've spoken with thousands of customers of all sizes, and the idea of interoperability has really resonated with smaller companies, too."

Steinman and Holger Dyroff, another Novell executive, cited Wal-Mart, Credit Suisse, and HSBC as examples of some of the customers snared by Novell through the Microsoft deal.

Previously, HSBC had been using mostly Windows, with a bit of Red Hat Linux, too, they said during another interview. But HSBC was "unhappy with Red Hat's support," according to Dyroff.

But not all of Novell's recent customer wins have been spurred by Novell. According to Applebaum, Novell signed Peugeot as a customer for 20,000 Linux desktops several months before inking the Microsoft agreement.

"Windows 2000 desktops were facing the end of support from Microsoft, and [Peugeot] was looking for an alternative. The other half of the story here was the release of SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10. This has real maturity for Linux on the desktop. Another driver was the availability of the Lotus Notes client on SUSE Linux. Novell [performed] work with Peugeot that was fully its own," Applebaum said.

But after the deal was signed, Applebaum said, Novell started to work with both Peugeot and Microsoft around integration with Microsoft's Active Directory.

Beyond "end-to-end SUSE Linux," the second part of the Novell strategy articulated this week deals with management of mixed environments. So far, most of the talk has revolved around management of Windows and SUSE Linux.

But Novell's new ZENworks 7.2 Linux Management will manage both SUSE and Red Hat. Meanwhile, Zenworks Configuration Manager (ZCS), announced last week at Cebit, will manage Windows only, even though it will run on either Linux or Windows.

Evidently, Novell has its eyes on competing against Microsoft with Zenworks, too. Jaffe also predicted that Zen Configuration Management will turn into "the best manager for [Windows] Vista."

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