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Novell CEO Defends Company, Linux Plans

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NEW YORK — A day after getting slapped with a new lawsuit over Linux, Novell’s top man said 2004 will be a year of further growth of open source in major enterprise applications and the desktop — albeit with a few assumptions.

CEO Jack Messman Wednesday said, first his company must defend itself against a lawsuit filed by SCO Group against it Tuesday. SCO Group is alleging that Novell has improperly filed copyright registrations for Unix technology it says is covered by SCO’s copyrights.

The Lindon, Utah-based firm also charges Novell with making false public statements regarding the ownership of Unix and UnixWare. The two companies have a bitter history of sparing over the bragging rights to the enterprise operating system.

With the SCO Group’s separate $3 billion lawsuit against IBM over Linux hanging in the air, Messman’s keynote address here pressed onward with his vision for what Linux could achieve in the enterprise in 2004. At times he made oblique references to SCO Group, referring to a company from Utah that has helped “muddy the waters” regarding Linux.

“How much faster would Linux be growing if the issue were not out there,” he said. But it is, and CIOs have to worry about the risks, he added.

Beyond the legal defense of its claims to parts of Unix, Messman said customers are looking at cost, choice, security and reliability in deciding how and where to deploy versions of the Linux operating system, he said. These concerns are what vendors and customers need to overcome.

For Linux vendors, the key is assuring ensuring customers that they stand behind their product deployments in conjunction with Linux versions, assuring them that, as Messman put it, “they have a throat to choke” if something goes wrong with an enterprise Linux deployment.

Chief information officers always have to worry about the risks associated with new deployments, especially potential intellectual property challenges that may lurk below a Linux deployment as a result of the ongoing Linux dispute between SCO Group.

After all, vendors for years have provided indemnification to their customers regarding products they sell them or help deploy. “Why should they expect anything differently now?” he added.

“We need to do a better job in explaining the protections inherent in a Linux deployment,” he said.

Novell, along with Hewlett-Packard and now Red Hat , has offered a shield of indemnification to customers against possible legal exposure to the SCO Group/IBM Linux dispute. SCO Group has threatened to file copyright infringement lawsuits against major Linux users if they don’t fork over license fees for parts of Linux by its deadline next month.

“Novell’s model of indemnification is, we believe, a model that we think will be emulated by other providers going forward,” he said. “We put it right at the core of our business.”

He also said he expects systems management to be the next envelope that Linux could push, after continued growth in more mission critical environments such as data centers, and away from low-cost processing jobs.

In addition, Messman said he wanted to dispel the “lingering concerns” that some in the open source community may have about Novell’s commitment to open source. After the company’s $210 million acquisition of SUSE Linux and Ximian, he said, Novell has “gained two gems of the open source community,” he said. “We take that responsibility seriously. We won’t simply port to Linux and say we’re done. We’ve pledged to lead in innovation. I commit to you here today that we will not mess this up. SUSE Linux and Ximian simply won’t let us.”

In related news, Novell Wednesday said it has joined the Eclipse project. The non-profit group formed by IBM, Borland, Red Hat and others helps set specifications for open source software developer tools. Novell said developers building software using Novell’s exteNd technology (J2EE) or open source Mono technology will find a common home in Eclipse whether the target platform is Linux, Windows or NetWare.

Speaking of exteNd, Novell said has released version 5 of its popular Web services development suite. The updated version adds support for SUSE LINUX and Red Hat Linux. The platform also adds in support for standards including the W3C XForms 1.0 specification for next-generation Web forms and the Portlet 1.0 specification for interoperability between different portal vendors.

One vendor Novell is adding more face time with is IBM. The companies Wednesday said Novell’s Linux management software, Ximian Red Carpet Enterprise, can now maintain and manage IBM eServer systems in a SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server (SLES) environment. The news is significant to the both companies’ enterprise customers considering SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 8 with Service Pack 3 on IBM eServers has achieved one of the highest government standards for “critical command-and-control operations” commonly referred to as CAPP/EAL3+.

And in keeping with its open source mantra, Novell Wednesday said an open beta version of Novell GroupWise 6.5 for Linux would be available Feb. 4. Pricing and general availability dates were not disclosed. The company said it expects the new version of its collaboration platform to ship the first half of this year and will feature native support for its Ximian Evolution e-mail and workgroup information management application for Linux-based systems, along with plug-in support for the GAIM instant messenger client.

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