Monday, August 09, 2004

Novell

Jonathan Schwartz, President and COO of Sun, idly speculating in his personal blog about the ownership of Novell, and how it would trouble IBM if Novell fell into the hands of a competitor. This is being widely interpreted as a plan by Sun to buy Novell - or even as a hint that IBM should buy Sun - or just mischief-making.
Prompted by this, I took a quick look at Novell - especially in terms of web services. They have a product suite exteNd, that on a casual view looks much like any other. They have copious documentation on the creation of web services. They are currently previewing a federated identity management solution, code-named Odissey. (Let's hope they've read their Homer.) And they have just acquired a UK-based consultancy called Salmon, apparently to beef up their web service services business. But if IBM or Sun bought them, all the attention would be focused on the Linux stuff, and the web service stuff might well vanish without trace. Would anyone notice or care?

Novell's uniqueness lies in their historical legacy – networking expertise and customer base. From a marketing point of view, they have a particular emphasis on overcoming/eliminating network boundaries - hence Odissey.

Arguable there is little meaningful differentiator between the web service functionality or performance of different vendors. Selection and evaluation needs to be done for the whole stack, not for the web service layer in isolation.

If Novell is taken over, then the Novell stack might well disappear, along with their web services offerings. However, this shouldn't represent a significant risk for current Novell users, since they should be able to switch to another stack. Obviously whoever buys Novell will want to make this as transparent as possible - but rival stacksters will be looking to offer easy and cheap alternatives.

Meanwhile, what on earth was the real purpose of Schwartz's airing his thoughts on IBM's dependence on Novell? POSIWID - the purpose of an action is what it achieves. Novell's share price may blip upwards (in hopes of a bidding war between IBM and Sun), but Novell revenues are likely to go down (as the uncertainty causes customers to hesitate). This is not the tactic of someone who is seriously planning a take-over bid; it makes much more sense if we see it as a spoiling tactic by a competitor.

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