A good slogan for Novell's annual BrainShare tradeshow might have been, "Get your Linux here."
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With presenters at the conference covering everything Linux, from the server to the desktop, it's clear that Novell views the operating system as a way to defend itself against Microsoft, which has been steadily eating away at Novell's NetWare customer base for years.
"[Novell is] pushing Linux into every major segment," said Tony Iams, BrainShare attendee and senior operating systems analyst with Ideas International, in Port Chester, N.Y. "They have data center versions of SuSE Linux, high performance technical computing versions and then desktop versions."
But Linux isn't Novell's only defense. Analysts said the company also hopes to hold onto NetWare users by focusing on a historical strength -- directory services -- and by signaling that its commitment to open source doesn't mean an erosion of support for strictly proprietary customers.
Hybrid hits the streets
Key to Novell's Linux strategy is its hybrid Linux-NetWare Open Enterprise Server and SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 package, which started shipping this week to coincide with the conference.
The long-awaited hybrid allows users to run the traditional NetWare services on either a standard network kernel or a Linux kernel.
"It provides a gradual way to introduce Linux into a NetWare environment," Iams said. "It's a migration path for the traditional NetWare users to start using Linux."
A handful of selected Novell customers attending BrainShare also got to view a demonstration of the company's upcoming SuSE Linux Professional desktop 9.3, which begins shipping in April.
The full-featured desktop will come packaged with the Firefox 1.01 Web browser, the Novell Evolution 2.0 groupware client, the 2.6.11 Linux kernel and a choice of a KDE 3.4 or GNOME 2.10 interface. The distribution will also ship with the OpenOffice.org 2.0 applications suite, Linphone voice over IP, and it will feature iPod compatibility.
ZEN and the art of software maintenance
Novell is also pressing its recently released Novell ZENworks 7 Linux Management, a centralized system for managing Linux desktops and servers and the software they run.
ZENworks 7 adds remote control; imaging; hardware and software inventory; a Web console; and ZENworks' automated policy management. The version can be used to manage both SuSE Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Linux desktops and servers.
The technology is already well established in the Windows arena, and Novell is now trying to bring that success into the Linux world.
"They're establishing ZENworks as a true heterogeneous provisioning tool," Iams said. "It helps you distribute software and patches and manage the software on a variety of platforms."
Back to basics
Novell this week also unveiled its Application Services Foundation and Identity Services Foundation, two platforms being offered as a set of software development kits that allow developers to build customized identity management and security applications.
Novell faces tough competition in the area of identity management from the likes of Microsoft, Sun and others. But analysts said Novell has a lot of credibility when it comes to the technology, enough to possibly give them an edge.
"[Novell] has been focusing on the directory service problem for 10 years. They started shipping advanced directory services for the NetWare platform in the mid-90s," Iams said. "Microsoft didn't really show up [with Active Directory] until Windows 2000 came out."
Other announcements coming out of the BrainShare show seemed geared at letting users of proprietary NetWare and related products know that Novell intends to support them for the long haul.
Specifically, the company announced 10-year extended support for GroupWise, its flagship collaboration offering. GroupWise is also being offered with a prepackaged SuSE Linux Enterprise Server.
In February, Novell announced its Hula initiative, a community project to create an open source collaboration server with advanced e-mail and calendar functionality. Iams said the move to extend support for GroupWise is meant to show those customers Novell hasn't forgotten them.
"They don't want their existing GroupWise customers to be nervous that they're abandoning that in favor of this Hula technology," Iams said. "It's an effort to say that they're serious about both."