Conversation with Novell's Stone

Q: How do you describe Novell now?

A: Obviously it’s a company that has been transformed in a very short period of time, over the past probably 12 months. The transformation that has taken place isn’t something we just cooked up along the way -- we actually laid out a strategy about a year ago; it began at Brainshare where we methodically thought about how to transform the platform. This is all about the platform first, before you move up the stack.

Q: How do you define platforms at Novell today?

A: NetWare to Linux, fundamentally that. There were many attempts by Novell to [change] that. One of them failed miserably, which was to buy Unix. That’s a platform shift. The problem was that the company didn’t shift. At Brainshare we announced that NetWare services -- file, print, directory, all of the things we’ve been building in NetWare for 20 years -- will now run on Linux. And we did that to gauge the reaction of the crowd. And it was kind of nice. Everybody went “Wow.”

Q: So where do you see Linux going?

A: I think Linux has an enormous amount of opportunity to provide two alternative desktops, whether that desktop is a general business desktop or verticalized for health care or [another] marketplace. I believe that the server platform is clearly all going to be Linux, and that will give you things like high-performance computing, multiclustered technology that will provide virtualization.

Q: What about desktop Linux?

A: We will provide a desktop. I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but we are going to build one. And we now own the technology to do it. When we bought SuSE Linux, we picked up the KDE SLB. We bought Ximian. It’s our job to figure out how to get all the parts integrated.

Q: So you think you can take on Microsoft?

A: It isn’t really taking them on [as much as that] people have gone off [them]. It’s literally timing; its amazing how many hundreds of thousands of people are trying to get off Windows around the world. But where are they going to go? Right now they may go to Web clients or thin clients. They may go to Java, the Mad Hatter thing, or they may go to Red Hat. But they don’t have a good, enterprise-focused desktop built by someone who knows how to do this stuff. That’s what we’re going to do.

Q: So whom do you see yourself competing with now other than Microsoft on the desktop?

A: Red Hat. You could say Sun, but we actually licensed and built some of the Sun desktop, so Sun is more of a partner than they are a competitor. Red Hat and Novell clearly want to move everything up the stack. That’s what this is all about -- always is, always will be, when it comes to software. But we will compete on certain things with Red Hat.

Q: What about IBM or Hewlett-Packard? Are they potential competitors as well?

A: In services? It is unlikely you will see a Unix redux -- they’re not going to repeat the mistakes of the past by creating 15 variants of this thing. There are two distributions out there right now. There’s us and there’s Red Hat. And everybody’s happy with that. It simplifies what you have to write to. It simplifies the platforms you have to test and certify against. It just makes life simpler.

Q: But is that the same software, the Linux software?

A: The kernel is the same.

Q: It’s a little different from the Unix?

A: Everything’s a little different, right down to the user interface. There are 18 different user interfaces. At least in Linux it’s two -- we have our own KDE.

Q: Novell was always the network company, and I’m sure you have a lot of people here from NetWare in the labs or whatever who have latched on to it.

A: Again, it’s the strategy of the company to move in this direction. Linux is a means to an end; it’s not the end. And the way we make money is up the stack -- service and support. Are the network kernel engineers on board with it? Absolutely. Not a day goes by I don’t get another idea from somebody on the team: “Why don’t we open source this? Have you thought about ... ?” Novell’s back in the limelight as a company that’s sort of relevant again, so if you’re an engineer, we’re doing all the things you want to be focusing work toward. We’ve actually assigned some of the network kernel guys to work on the open-source development of the Linux kernel.

Q: Is there anything you’re missing?

A: There are lots of missing technology parts. There are some things that we need to work on and we could get better at. The ability to run Windows applications on Linux we could be better at. Some more management technologies, things like that. Filling in the gaps.

Q: Does the name Novell hold you back? Not because it’s a bad name but because people think “network.”

A: We were worried about that and we had all kinds of debates about changing the name of the company. Should we change the name of the products? But we decided that if we get the strategy right, it will just happen. And that seems to be what’s going on. Now that we’ve made these acquisitions and turned the company in this direction, people seem to be latching on.

We’re not dropping NetWare. That’s always been the issue. You’ve got to be sensitive as to how you say it. NetWare is on a 13% decline per year and it’s been going that way for years. We don’t try to hide that. That’s the reality. So we have to do something about it. Adding features to it doesn’t improve that. It doesn’t stop that from happening. What we just did might. It’s early to tell. But that was the goal -- to try to stabilize that.

Q: Do you have the ability to do to Windows NT what Windows NT did to NetWare?

A: I wouldn’t say that’s the strategy. We, Novell, don’t get out of bed in the morning and dream about how we can screw Microsoft. We get out of bed and dream about how we can actually make some money on a different platform, go kind of off and to the right from where they are. If you sit down and talk about Longhorn and things like that, it’s kind of probably heading in that direction. But we’re not doing this because we read all of Microsoft’s strategic documents and figure out how we can mimic them. Often it’s the inverse. Everything we do, they mimic.

Q: On the desktop, though, if you want to have a Linux desktop you have to have applications. How do you get people to write those?

A: You have to give them a toolset that’s easy. Application developers, as you know, are finicky. They don’t like to be told, “Well there’s a couple of ways you can do it.” They like to be told, “This is the way you do it.” Microsoft has proven that and has been very successful. And we have to answer that question. I don’t have it for you right now, but that’s part of the plan.

Q: Is it the same thing on the server? With server applications is it not as important?

A: It’s not as important on the server, but you do have to finally say a platform from which to port your application. There’s LSV and Linux systems and that’s what a lot of people just use right now. We’re going to support Eclipse. We’ll recommend that as an IDE for everybody to use on our platform, so the server is not as much of a hotbed of discussion as the desktop is.

Q: Is it more important that the tools come from the server or from the platform provider or do you need a bunch of toolmakers? Is that important anymore?

A: It can come from a variety of sources, particularly in the open-source community. I’ll give you an example. If you look at things like GPK, that’s open source -- no one vendor owns that, but that’s OK. Whereas QT, which is the other developer option in Linux, is actually owned by a company.

Q: What do you think comes of the two Linux suppliers -- you and Red Hat now -- in tools development?

A: I hope there’s no more entrants to this. But two isn’t going to slow us down; I hope it will speed it up.

Q: Is it too late for anyone else to be in this?

A: I think it’s too late. There are other distributions out there. But there are really two fundamental enterprise-focused distributions, and that’s us and Red Hat. And I think that’s healthy.

Q: What about your relationships with the big hardware suppliers?

A: I’d say they’re reinvigorated. We’re working very closely with IBM, Dell, HP and Gateway on licensing some of our technology, which we couldn’t have done a year or a year and a half ago.

Q: Are you having any difficulty, because you’re doing all this new stuff, in finding people to do the engineering work?

A: No, not at all. We have some of the best people in the world in Linux working for us now. Roughly 180 of the best engineers in the platform work for us in engineering. Definitely the best resource management desktop guy in New England. We have some real talent here. What we’ve learned over the years in NetWare is directly applicable here. It just happens to be open source now -- one kernel.

Q: Your headquarters are in Waltham, Mass., now but we haven’t been writing about that.

A: We filed our 10K in February, and part of the requirement that the SEC had -- this is all part of the new governance rules -- is that wherever the majority of the executives are should be the corporate headquarters.

We didn’t make a big deal about it. We were proactive about it. We called the politicians and talked to them. We didn’t ask everyone to get in their car and drive to Boston the next morning. There are 2,000 people in Utah, and it’s going to stay that way. It’s just more of a formality.

Q: How has the SuSE acquisition (completed in January) affected operations so far?

A: Strategically, that’s moving our product launch, but I think it also gives us a lot of opportunity in the services and support area. So along with the technical support and education, there’s more opportunity for us to provide certified Linux engineers -- that’s another program we have underway.

Q: How are you getting the word out? Do people know that you’re the alternative?

A: The word of mouth on this has gone pretty fast; that’s the great news. Just the acquisition brought us more PR than we could have ever bought and better stories than us advertising because it’s real. You could touch it, you could see what we were doing. We will have a campaign for Linux.

Q: I assume NetWare customers are potential customers for this.

A: They will have a choice. They can stay with NetWare, and we’ll continue to enhance it and provide them with new functionality. Or they can come off it and onto [our] Linux. You can run Microsoft on Linux and NetWare and print between them, file between them, directory, applications.

Q: Who else have you talked to on the corporate side?

A: We’re actually going through an analysis now for what vertical markets we should go and hack first and get a foothold there. So should we go after state and local governments first? This is actually where most of the Linux implementations are taking place around the world, so that makes sense. Another would be health care and medical, or even retail systems. We have a deal now with IBM on a point of sale system that runs on Linux distributions. Those are some examples of vertical markets that we’re going after.

Q: Can you talk a little bit more about what you’re doing for the developer community?

A: We’re going to provide more services for developers; we have SourceForge, and we have our own version on our site for that. We provide more SDKs and tools, more technical help. We’re actually taking all of our developer support folks and focusing them on Linux, developer support, technical support and helping with portals. We’re working with IBM and HP on their porting centers to get some major applications and to port it over to Linux. Eighty percent of all applications are written internally, and they’re done by corporate developers. So we’re going to provide them with a pretty good environment to move over to. We’ve [also] created this thing called Mono, a project out of the Ximian team that allows .NET applications to actually run on Linux. But we use Visual Basic or Visual Studio or something like that to develop your .NET app. You can actually recompile the thing in C# and put it on top of Linux.

Q: Have these things started?

A: Mono is a project that is well underway. There’s a site and you can go check it out. You can hook to off of our Web site, and there’s a number of ISVs using it now. We are actually building iPrint and iFolder using Mono. It’s great.


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