LinuxWorld keynote: Novell exec spotlights support, not suit

If Novell's chief exec has his way, CIOs will soon be very comfortable with implementing Linux. Jack Messman pledged that during his keynote address at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo this week.

NEW YORK -- Novell Inc. CEO and chairman Jack L. Messman blurred the lines between open source and proprietary software during his keynote address today at LinuxWorld Conference & Expo.

Messman nary mentioned the SCO Group's latest legal volley -- a suit that accuses Novell of improper copyright registration and slander, and alleges that the company operated in bad faith in trying to block SCO's efforts to enforce its copyright claims. Instead, he laid out a strategy for enterprises thinking about drilling Linux deep into their infrastructures and offered a course of action for vendors and open source developers.

"It's critical to get beyond the religious wars," Messman said. "[Proprietary and open source] can and must coexist."

Messman pledged that Novell, which recently acquired SuSE Linux AG, as well as Ximian Inc., would provide the services and support crucial to enterprise CIOs and other decision makers for their mission-critical platforms.

"We have to get past the 'not invented here' syndrome," Messman said. "We are going to build applications and open source them, and then provide commercial versions as well -- much in the same way we have with Ximian, Red Carpet, and the way MySQL has. Selling proprietary value-added services on top of open source like identity management, Web application services and resource management satisfies the demands of enterprise CIOs who want these on Linux."

One user wasn't bothered by the line Novell was crossing.

"I think when it comes to that, you have to trust the company ... and hope it all works out," said Craig Harmeyer, an IT analyst with International Truck and Engine, a truck engineering firm based in Chicago. Harmeyer's team uses a Beowulf cluster of Linux servers for engineering design analysis. "It was real interesting that a company as large as Novell invested $250 million in acquiring these companies -- and they're going to utilize what these companies have and not cannibalize them and offer it closed source."

Novell has a presence in the enterprise with its UnixWare and NetWare network-management products. But the company lost significant market share during the last decade to Windows NT.

Messman acknowledged that having such a heavy investment in Linux and open source is a challenge for his company -- but not as big a challenge as making Novell's long-time cross-platform strategy work. He predicted that 2004 would be the year Linux goes mainstream on the enterprise server and becomes a strategic enterprise platform.

In the meantime, he identified support as the No. 1 issue for CIOs, who need to make one call when things go wrong, and have "one throat to choke."

"The idea that the code is not proprietary, but owned by a community is daunting for a CIO," Messman said. "We pledge to make it easier for you to use Linux. From what we see, there is no clear-cut enterprise support option in the open source community. CIOs expect to call Novell, Microsoft or HP if things don't work, and [they] expect us to fix it. CIOs want support from someone they can trust.

"A vendor who can manage change and provide the services customers will pay for will help CIOs adopt Linux in the enterprise. We will create order out of the complex and changing open source process."

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