Novell appears to be staging a comeback, using Linux as the catalyst to breathe new life into its line of enterprise applications. For some time now, it seems the consensus has been that the Novell app line was wonderful, but they forced you to also run Novell’s proprietary NetWare operating system. I don’t know if there’s a bait and switch game going on at Novell where they use Linux to get in the door and then shove NetWare down your throat, but even if they do, the fact remains that their apps all run on Linux. The purchase of SuSE, one of the largest Linux distributors, also points away from this bait-and-switch idea.
The idea is really quite simple: open source the application so that hobbyists and some insanely hardcore administrators with time on their hands can get their hands dirty and do what they want. In return for getting the application and source code for nothing, they’ll report bugs, submit patches, request feature enhancements, and generally be a benefit to the application’s evolution. In addition, take that same application, put it in a shiny box, and sell it to enterprises who require a throat to choke in the event something goes awry (they’ll pay for that throat, that’s the key). Offer support and wrap some form of service offering around it, and you’re in business!
The purchase of SuSE also rounded out Novell’s application line, by adding SuSE’s proprietary Microsoft Exchange replacement, called OpenXchange. If they can integrate it with their eDirectory and ZenWorks offerings, it’ll absolutely be a contender for walletshare in the enterprise, and it’ll help Linux get more floorspace in the datacenter. The one thing I think other companies can learn from with regard to Novell’s tack here is that you can open source an application, and still make money from it.
Large corporations tend not to deploy unsupported software. Certainly, exceptions are made in cases like Apache and Sendmail, which are de facto internet standards. The exceptions are made there not because they’re open source and free, though. The exception is made because there is a labor pool readily available just teeming with people who know these apps inside and out. The reason they don’t otherwise deploy unsupported software is because it would either cause the company to spend loads of money on training (and who knows where that’ll come from), or it’ll make the company dependent on the very few people within the organization who know the application. Labor is not supposed to be indispensible from a business perspective, so that’s bad news.
In this scenario, Novell is insuring that those who would never buy the full-fledged offering can still get the software, and that relationship with the community probably winds up making a better product, and probably for less money spent on Novell’s part. Those who will buy a license get a good product, and a good service offering from a name they’ve known for many years. I think this one’s a winner.