The Re-emergence of Novell Classic

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Back in the 1980s, the Coca-Cola Company decided to tinker with a winning formula to create a New Coke soda that customers roundly rejected. That, of course, led to the reintroduction of Coke Classic, which to this day is a mainstay of the industry.

A similar event appears to be taking place at Novell in the wake of its acquisition by Attachmate. Along with picking up SUSE Linux as part of Novell, it also owns the NetIQ product line in addition to marketing traditional terminal emulation tools that Attachmate was originally known for.

In the wake of the Novell acquisition, Attachmate CEO Jeff Hawn has been engaged in some rational behavior that is basically creating four business units around each of the major brands that Attachmate now owns: Novell, SUSE, NetIQ and Attachmate.

What's interesting about all this is how much the new Novell looks like the Novell of old. For instance, all the high-end data center and virtualization management products that Novell recently acquired, such as PlateSpin, have been transferred to NetIQ, which markets high-end systems management tools.

Meanwhile, SUSE has been set up to operate independently of Novell. As such, the company will spend a lot less time trying to position SUSE as the perfect adjunct to Windows, which was a tack that Novell pursued in a controversial alliance with Microsoft. Instead, Hawn says the new SUSE will fight it out for the hearts and minds of the Linux community directly against Red Hat and Canonical. Hawn recognizes that it will take some time for SUSE to regain its footing in the open source community, but as a private company, he notes that Attachmate can afford to be patient.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the Novell deal is that under Attachmate's ownership, Novell will reverse a previous decision concerning NetWare. The company intends to continue developing NetWare, versus trying to force customers to upgrade to Open Enterprise Server, which is a network operating system based on SUSE Linux that Novell will continue to offer. In addition, Novell will continue to market Groupwise, Zenworks and most of the traditional Novell products.

Hawn says that as a private company, Attachmate is a lot more concerned about profitability and revenue than the opinions of analysts trying to determine a stock price. As a result, Attachmate can take a long-term view of the market because as much as emerging technologies may drive long-term trends, the fact remains that most people in the IT industry don't always appreciate how dependent IT customers are on legacy technologies they want to see steadily improve over time.

Somewhere out there the late Novell founder, Ray Noorda, is probably smiling.